Final year engineering student Parthasarathy sent his first telegram on Sunday. It was also his last. The Central Telegraph Office, which doubles up as the BSNL customer care centre in Cantonment, saw many first-time users of the 160-year-old telegraph service, before the last message was booked at 5.30 p.m.
On Sundays, no more than five to ten telegrams are booked at the office. But this Sunday was an exception with more than 75 messages suggestive of nostalgia, mourning, and appeal booked, in the wake of a circular issued by BSNL instructing telegraph service to be discontinued from July 15.
“There will be no booking tomorrow. We have been asked to stop booking and transmission of messages with this evening,” said B. Ramamoorthy, taking down phonograms (telegrams booked over phone) before the last bell at 5.30 p.m. “We did not expect so many telegrams on the last day,” said Vijayalakshmi, chief telegraph officer, who had the day off but had to come to work to assist her colleague book the last telegrams.
“People booking phonograms are asking us why we are closing down the service without (giving) an alternative.”
As the eleventh hour drew near, last-minute senders dropped in to fill up messages in forms.
“Many are sending messages to themselves as a keepsake,” said a staff who took curious youth and pensive senior citizens around the office. Some of them wanted to be photographed sending telegrams.
Parthasarathy, who drove in from Thuvakudi, said: “My parents have told me about telegrams, but I’ve never sent one before. I thought the Morse Code was still in use, till I found it is all web-based today.”
Children like eight-year-old Keerthana came along with their parents to send a telegram. “My father told me about the thanthi and the history behind it.” Her father Vijayakumar who helped her pen her message said: “I wanted to show my daughter what her generation would never get to see.”
Though ‘happy birthday’ and ‘god bless you’ messages were booked, a significant number of messages were appeals to continue the service like ‘don’t stop telegram service’ and ‘atrocious BSNL closing telegram.’
The Federation of Consumer Organisations led by president M. Sekaran sent more than 20 telegrams to the President: “Appeal for your H.E.’s kind intervention in burial of 163 year old historical telegraph service.”
“It is a beautiful and essential service. Only staff like me who have worked for 38 years in the telegraph office know how valuable people have found it,” said a wistful Ms. Vijayalakshmi.
“They can at least continue the service in central offices in each district.”
She typed one of her last messages, “Goodbye all stop end of an era stop life goes on.”