Even as thousands rushed to the telegraph offices on Sunday, full of nostalgia, to send the last telegrams before the service closed, 82-year-old Y.R. Shah remained pragmatic. A businessman who has been collecting telegrams for more than six decades, he doesn’t seem particularly surprised at the end of the era.

“There is no point in feeling sentimental about the telegram now. Ever since email started, telegrams have been disappearing,” he says, magnifying glass in hand, poring over copies of telegrams he once owned.

Tracking the transition

This Malleswaram resident, also a philatelist, is a trove of information and stories about the transition of the telegraph system from the Morse key sounder to the web-based telegraph message switches system. Picking up a copy of the oldest telegram he owned, he explains: “This one is dated February 10, 1864, from Bombay to Indore on a standard telegram form of the government telegraph department. The contents of the letter are written in Gujarati and English, which are difficult to decipher.” Later telegrams, however, were not handwritten but typed, he says. In his collection were also telegrams from the late 1950s, which have government advertisements: “Invest wisely, National Savings Certificate”, “Wise persons investment, buy National Savings Scheme”.

An April 22, 1950, telegram had a rubber seal of Pakistan. Mr. Shah says: “Even after partition, people in Pakistan would send telegrams on the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department letterhead, but they would have a blue ‘Pakistan’ seal on it.”

The next generation

Over the past six years, Mr. Shah has sold all the 200 odd telegrams he owned. “I have sold most of my telegrams through auctions conducted by the Karnataka Philately Society and some [online]…I am growing old now and I’d rather give it to someone who will keep this carefully,” he said, adding that he charged Rs. 10 to Rs. 180 for them.

Jayanarayanan M., consultant engineer, is one of people who bought telegrams from Mr. Shah. “I have bought around 50 telegrams from him, which were sent between 1950 and 1965. The telegrams mostly contain business information, but there are a few that contain personal information as well.”


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