There was a time when the Central Telegraph Office received countless telegrams. “I wouldn’t have had the time to talk to you like this,” says 59-year-old Chief Telegraph Master R.D. Ram. He was 20 years old then and had travelled from his hometown on the outskirts of Benares to accept a job in the Capital. Back then one telegram was priced at Rs.3.50.
As July 15 approaches – the day on which the 160-year-old telegram service will be discontinued – the city’s residents have thronged the office creating a sense of nostalgia for the staffers, some of whom have worked there for four decades. The crowds have also been reassuring. Perhaps, with public support, the taar could be kept alive?
“What we do is public service and is in no way individualistic. I am confident that it will not close down,” says Mr. Ram. As he sits sorting out a pile of messages, ordering them according to time and destination, his colleague Sudhir Kumar Sharma clarifies that the “telegram will shut down and not the telegraph”. The board outside the counter details the other myriad services that the CTO offers.
Both men then exchange anecdotes - recall messages about booth capturing during election times, plea messages to the Prime Minister and people informing their parents that they had married the man or woman of their choice.
“Back then, people would start crying if they received a telegram,” says Mr. Sharma, who has been a senior telegraph operative assistant since 1981. “The telegram was a symbol of death. It brought bad news.” A blue board outside the counter read: Death Telegram – Rs.5 for first 30 words (as opposed to Rs.25 for a normal one).
Yet, when its time for the death of the telegram itself, the staffers seem awfully composed and have resigned to the fact that the service may just come to an end. “We heard rumours for over five years that the telegram services may be discontinued. Now that it is official it is a huge relief. Some of us can then look for other work,” says Mr. Sharma.
His colleague, Usha Gautam, however, wonders what will happen to all those who still use the service. “Many Army jawans send out telegrams to inform their family that they may not be allowed to take holidays and certified copies of telegrams have been produced in court. People also send messages when they have a child,” she says, recollecting some of the many messages she has typed.
She turns back to her computer to type out – “Last journey, last post, a goodbye telegram to be sent as souvenir.”