“To the end of a beautiful era.”
This was not a doomsday condolence but a telegram from a friend to mark the end of the service in India.
Just before telegram’s plug was pulled off on July 15, I dashed to the telegraph office, hoping to use the service at least once in my life time. Armed with addresses and messages, I sent telegrams to half-a-dozen of my family (of course, to my own address), friends and relatives.
“On the edge of transition, westand together,” I wrote to one friend.
“The world is not a sphere or flat. It is shaped by what was, what is and what will be,” to another.
Line after line of sentimental messages flowed from my pen into the form. This was my first and last time sending telegrams.
When I was in Std. V, I had a chapter in my English text book on writing telegrams. I never understood why it was there until I actually sent a telegram.
I had a five-mark compulsory question on this. We would have to write morbid messages like “Uncle dead. Stop. Return.”
This chapter and question was replaced by e-mail writing in high school which had a revamped syllabus to accommodate new developments. ‘At the rate’ replaced ‘Stop,’ and announcing fake deaths or victories were replaced by online job applications via e-mail.
School training came back in an instant and I realised telegram writing is brevity at its best. Forget 140 characters of Twitter, here you had to be stingy with words, not because the medium won’t let you write more at a time, but because they cost you. The telegram was a private message transmitted by public officials. The official to whom I gave my message read it out loud for verification. The office where it was received printed it and upon reaching its destination the telegram was read out loud to the receiver. So nothing was exactly private. But it was not public either. People writing telegrams used the limited space available to them after giving it much thought. As I was doing, when I wrote on the forms.
I was, perhaps a tourist, experiencing and romanticising a telegraph office. Others there were doing the same. Three photo journalists, who probably like me, had never entered a telegraph office before, clicked away voyeuristically. Bills, machines, men, messengers and message-givers – nothing escaped the eye of their lens.
The office was bare. With some chairs and a long table for customers to fill in the messages in the forms. There was a lone computer somewhere. The man behind the counter was wearing a cap; he panicked under the penetrating gaze of the camera and fumbled with the billing machine. It stopped working.
This was my attempt to create a moment when I could say – I used the telegram, you know. And here it was, being ruined by skinny operator, failing to feed paper in Dot Matrix Printer.
I had wanted to hound the officials at the telegraph office with questions of who, what, when, why, where and how. I decided against it. This was not going to be a news gathering exercise. I was doing something which I would never be able to do otherwise.
This was exclusive.
Additionally, my wife was surprise to read a telegram (taar) which said, “I Love You” . . .And, my daughter who received another “taar” …with a message, which says, ” Haven’t you seen in your closet darling.”
There was her birthday present. She Cheered.
Thank You Telegram.