AQ Ansari walks to the telegraph window, gives the form in his hand one last read and hands it to the telegraphist. Ansari, 65, a sessions court advocate, is at the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) to send a telegram to the Sangamner district court judge.
“I am unable to go for a case. Hence this,” he says. The telegram is accepted as a legally binding document.
“I don’t know what we will do once the service shuts down,” says Ansari.
He belongs to the breed of users – advocates, bankers, recovery agents, anyone who needs proof of communicating with another – that keep the 163year-old telegraph service going strong.
“The Mumbai CTO booked 98,257 telegrams in April and May,” says Vaishali Kardhekar, chief officer. “This shows there’s still a demand for the service though people like you and I will not need to send/receive telegrams now. Mobile phones changed everything.”
Around her sit Sandhya Joshi and GP Desai, both telegraphists who worked on the old Morse code machine and later adapted to the web-based system.
Joshi says, “Instead of shutting down the service, it could have been given to BSNL to operate.”
Till year 2000, telegraphists were given a quota: 220 telegrams a day and incentives for every telegram after that.
“Some of us typed out more than 1,000 a day,” says Desai.
Telegraphists and messengers who reach telegrams are in a state of flux.
With three days left for the service to stop, they have no idea where they will be accommodated.
“CTO has about 600 staff. Many will retire soon. In the next two-three years, without staff, the service would have shut down itself,” he says.
The telegram is an anachronism in this age of instantaneous and satellite communication.
“The queue of people used to extend from six-eight windows in the hall to the outside the gate,” recalls Dhondiram Kumbhar, who joined in 1978. “I haven’t seen a queue in the last five years.”