A fortnight before the telegraph service is put to rest, we send across one last message

If you were born post 1980, there is a good chance that the mention of the word ‘telegram’ takes you back to scenes in black and white films where the telegram, by virtue of the usually shocking news it carried had the power to elicit either celebration or trauma. When we heard that the once ubiquitous service was to be shut down forever on July 15 we thought of sending one last telegram from Hyderabad.

The first step - finding the nearest telegraph office - proved to be a task in itself. We head optimistically to the Post and Telegraph office on Road no.1, Banjara Hills. The ‘multipurpose counter’ is closed for lunch when we arrive but a ten minute wait and a conversation with the man behind it made it clear that most post offices have chosen to shut down their telegram service  due to poor demand. He informs us that we could try the Khairatabad Post Office at Lakdi Ka Pul or head to the Central Telegraph Office at Abids.

More prudent this time, we called the former to find out that they too had stopped providing the service. So Abids it was. We reached the office to find that there was a queue of two people at the telegram counter. One of them was an elderly gentleman who waited patiently for his receipt while the other, a younger man was on his phone hurriedly taking down a Secunderabad address to which his telegram was to be sent. Before we asked ourselves why he would bother with a telegram when he could well deliver the message on the phone we spot an official seal on his document; the service continues to be a reliable way to send official documents simply because the receipt provides proof of sending.

As we are given the form in which the details of the receiver and sender and the message are to be written. The fact that the message was going to be read by the messenger even as we sat across him from the counter made us think twice about it. The message hence was constructed with a sense of privacy that so eluded us as we carelessly wrote on each other Facebook walls. It was kept brief and impersonal. We handed the form over the counter, breathed a sigh of relief that we didn’t make any laughable rookie mistakes and waited patiently for our receipts under a sign that quoted Mahatma Gandhi.

The sign reads, “Customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependant on us. We are dependant on him…” Today, without the celebrated Customer, its reason for being, the telegram service, it seems, can rest in peace.

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