The three-line message told the complete story in its stark simplicity. "15 July 2013, telegraph service ends. Dots and dashes replaced by hashtags and twitter. Will this telegram be on your Facebook timeline."
As the 160-year-old telegram service in India – once the quickest way of staying in touch – gets ready for its last journey on July 14, people are queuing up by the hundreds in front of telegram offices to be part of history.
Rowena of Oxford University Press sent her message to 10 friends and family-members, including one to her daughter. “I want to keep a telegram as a souvenir and show my daughter how it looked like. Standing in the queue was a truly nostalgic experience. Most of the others like me were sending a telegram for the first and probably the last time,” she said.
Pranita Vir, on her part, sent five telegrams on Wednesday. One of them was to her grandmother and in Hindi. “Priya amma, yeh mera pehla aur akhri taar hain. Aapki bahut yaad aati hain”(Dear amma, this is my first and last telegram. I remember you a lot) she wrote, lending a touch of poignancy.“
“I wanted to preserve something that would soon be dead,” Pranita said.
While most of the people are visiting the telegram office for the first time, they are not holding back when it came to the number of messages. Some have sent 10 telegrams and more, one even sent 50.
People across the country will be able to send their last telegram till 10 pm on June 14, as the Department of Posts & Telegraph said that it was being forced to close down the service due to huge losses. The Chennai high court on Thursday will hear a writ petition for continuing the services.
The world’s first telegram was sent by Samuel Morse in to his business partner Alfred Vail on 24 May 1844 and it read, “What God had wrought?” However, the first Indian telegram was sent some years later, in 1850 by British doctor and inventor William O'Shaughnessy. Official telegram services began a couple of years later.
Another person Santosh, who sent three telegrams – one each to his parent, fiancé and friend said, “I had never thought that one day I would be sending telegrams just for souvenirs.”
Shamim Akhtar, senior general manager of the telegraph services, admitted that “people are sending telegrams to preserve this traditional mode of communication. I have also got many telegrams requesting on not to discontinue the service”.
For RD Ram, chief telegraph master at the Central Telegraph Office in Delhi, the telegram has come to be a way of life and not just a tool for communication. Still hopeful that the services will not be discontinued, Ram said, I have been in this office for 39 years and have seen many ups and downs. I have seen the glorious period of the telegram service. There used to be so much variety in the messages, ranging from a relative’s illness to that of a child’s admission.”
Ironically, it is only in its deathbed that the telegram has suddenly discovered such a large number of well-wishers. But then, like they say, all good things must come to an end one day. Stop.