It was a paradox: the last day of the Government of India’s telegram service, which is being closed because of lack of takers, saw people rushing in to the BSNL office in Pandeshwar to avail of the facility.
While many came with a sense of nostalgia for a messaging system of the past, some were unaware that the messaging medium has evolved over the years. There was no “telegram instrument” or telegraph as some of them thought. Janardhan Shenoy was surprised to learn that no such instrument to send telegrams exists any more. Surya Addoor, a philatelist, told him that the process has been digitised and was sent using computers for some years now. He said he had used telegrams 20 years ago but not recently.“Loving greetings – this will be my first and last telegram. Love you dearly…”, one young lady read out her message as the harried staff member keyed it in. Everyone in the queue said they were sending telegrams for posterity. Mario Saldanha sent telegrams to President Pranab Mukherjee, conveying his best wishes, and to Sonia Gandhi wishing her the best for the upcoming elections. He said, “It is Number 100 for the telegram system,” referring to the service’s fixed-number list, where 100 stands for expressing condolences.
Philatelists wanted to record the event. Mr. Addoor said he sent 45 to 50 telegrams to co-enthusiasts and children. Nayana sent a telegram to her son, a doctor, numismatist and philatelist.
Prakhyat said he reduced the number of telegrams from 25 to 12 after seeing the queue. He hoped the recipients would understand the value of telegrams. Naaz, a homemaker, said she was sending a telegram to her daughter to let her know about telegrams. “It was the only means of communication for us at one time,” she said.
There were so many telegram requests that the staff had to stay back beyond their working hours. A staff member said, “On other days they don’t come. [There were people] only today, not even yesterday.”
Another staff member said 30 telegrams were sent on Saturday and 161 until 8.35 p.m. on Sunday, adding, “If so many people sent telegrams on a normal day, our department would have minted money.”
Susan, a final year MBBS student, said she grew up in a world of computers but had heard from her parents what telegrams had meant to them. She was the last person to send a telegram from the city. She said, “It was an emotional moment…I never thought I would be the last person to send (the telegram).”