Curtains for 163-year-old telegram service

Curtains came down on Sunday on the 163-year-old telegram service in the country.

New Delhi: Curtains came down on Sunday on the 163-year-old telegram service in the country - the harbinger of good and bad news for generations of Indians - amid a last minute rush of people thronging telegraph offices to send souvenir messages to family and friends.

Over 2,000 people, many of them youngsters and first timers, booked telegrams at three telegraph centres in the Capital which have almost been forgotten in recent years to their loved ones on the last day of the service.

At the Delhi Central Telegraph office at Janpath alone, over 1,850 people had booked their telegrams. Seeing people waiting in long queues with multiple forms, the 10 pm deadline was extended to accommodate them, a senior official said.

"I started my career in this office. It has been 30 long years here. There has never been so much crowd," said senior telegraph officer J P S Bhatia.

At the telegraph offices in Kashmere Gate and Delhi Cantonment also people in large number lined up to send their messages.

Among them were housewives, college students, morning joggers in track suits, old timers and office goers lining up, taking time off on a holiday. Some children, accompanied by parents, also sent their life`s first and last telegram.

"This is the first time I am sending a telegram. It is for my 96-year-old grandfather who lives in a village near Trichy," Anand Sathiyaseelan, a lawyer by profession, said.

A manager in a real estate firm Vikas Arvind said he was sending greetings to his parents in Bareilly.

"This I hope they will keep it as a memorabilia," Arvind said.
"Hope all is well" and "An iconic service comes to an end" were among the messages sent today.

Once the fastest means of communication for millions of
people, the end of the humble `taar` (telegram) left behind a string of happy and bitter memories for people across the country.

The last telegram will be preserved as a museum piece. the staff at the telegram counters were increased today in view of the anticipated rush.

Started in 1850 on an experimental basis between Kolkata and Diamond Harbour, it was opened for use by the British East India Company the following year. In 1854, the service was made available to the public.

It was such an important mode of communication in those days that revolutionaries fighting for the country`s independence used to cut the telegram lines to stop the British from communicating.

Though started as a Morse code service, the telegram service evolved gradually with the use of computers. At the time of its death, it had become a web based telegraph mailing service (WBTMS) which used emails to instantly convey message to the other end.

Nudged out by technology --- SMS, emails, mobile phones -- the iconic service gradually faded into oblivion with less and less people taking recourse to it.

Old timers recall that receiving a telegram would be an event itself and the messages were normally opened with a sense of trepidation as people feared for the welfare of their near and dear ones. It brought news of new borns in the family, deaths and job appointments among other things.

For jawans and armed forces seeking leave or waiting for transfer or joining reports, it was a quick and handy mode of communication.

Lawyers vouched for the telegrams as they were registered under the Indian Evidence Act and known for their credibility when presented in court.

Bollywood was not to be left behind and immortalised the service with many sudden twists and turns in films being announced by the advent of the `taar`.

Pockets of rural India still use the service but with the advent of technology and newer means of communication, the telegram found itself edged out.

"The service will now not be available from tomorrow," BSNL CMD R K Upadhyay said.


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