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‘Death of distance’ kills the telegram

There was a time when the word ‘taar’ could make hearts skip a beat. Come July 15, however, and the telegram will become history, Manoj Gairola and Praneta Jha report.

business Updated: Jun 29, 2013 20:17 IST
telegram,Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited,BSNL telegraph services

There was a time when the word taar could make hearts skip a beat.

A mother waiting for news of her son, a young man praying to be called for a job interview, a soldier awaiting a message from his beloved – everyone waited for the telegram, popularly known as taar in India.

Come July 15, however, and the telegram will become history.

The state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has decided to stop the 163-year-old telegraph service, which is losing Rs 350 crore per annum.

"The board approved the proposal to close down the service after exploring all options," said RK Upadhyay, chairman and managing director of BSNL.

The telegraph service, which began in India in 1850, will formally close down on July 15.

"Currently, we send only about 5,000 telegrams per day," said a BSNL official. That's down from several hundred thousand a day before the advent of the fax machine. BSNL took over the telegraph service from the postal department in the 1990s. The tariffs for some categories of telegrams were revised after 60 years in 2009. "The telegram is still used by government departments and banks, as its receipts are admissible as proof in courts and as official documents," said SD Saxena, former director (finance) of BSNL.

Before the invention of the fax machine, the telegram was the fastest bearer of news over long distances.

The first telegraph message was transmitted in India in 1850 between Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Diamond Harbour.

Seven years later, the telegraph service played a decisive role in ensuring a British victory in India's First War of Independence. "The telegraph allowed the British to relay information across large parts of India in almost real time. This leap in communications proved decisive," said BK Syngal, former CMD of VSNL, which had the mandate to send telegrams overseas till 2002.

In fact, Lord Dalhousie famously said that the telegraph had saved India for the British Empire.

But in the age of instant communication, thanks to cellular phones and internet, the telegram has become redundant.

"Although I have not sent or received a telegram for over 20 years now, in my childhood and youth, the telegram was the most reliable and quickest way of conveying information," writes Chandan Mitra for The Pioneer.

Sunil Gulati, an elderly resident of Mumbai, told DNA, "Celebration telegrams came with bells printed on them as an indication. People often dreaded telegrams as they brought bad news like someone's death."

On a happier note, Mitra remembers, "Sherlock Holmes fans would recall that the world's most popular fictional detective always relied on the telegram to inform his clients and the police about his itinerary."

Related links on the web:
163-year-old messenger of bad and good news faces death on July 15

The telegram is dying

Lingering demise of the telegram is a message in itself

First Published: Jun 13, 2013 12:30 IST