A day after the 163-year-old telegram service was laid to rest, two philatelists, V. Ethiraj and M.T. Karunakaran, combed their collection of telegrams, and displayed some of the most significant ones tracing the evolution of the service in India. For those who have never seen a telegram, there are ones that date back to the East India Company period.
When they started collecting them, little did they anticipate the closure of the historic service. Organised by the South India Philatelists Association, Monday’s exhibition was not just about nostalgia. It was also about reiterating how intrinsic the service was to the nation’s as well as personal histories.
The exhibition begins with telegrams from the1850s. One of them dated 1 April, 1857 was sent from Bombay to Indore. Another is a receipt with the East India Company’s seal on the back. One little yellowing paper, dating back to 1860, was a notice to hire a peon. There were Indian telegrams with stamps, those carrying advertisements, and censored ones sent during the world wars, and also the famous ‘greeting’ telegrams. One shows how a map was used as an envelope after World War II owing to shortage of paper.
Mr. Ethiraj said that he has a box full of telegrams. The exhibition also traces the evolution from handwritten telegrams to printed ones, where strips of paper are seen pasted.
Mr. Karunakaran, who pursued his hobby more vigorously after his retirement in 1992, said that personal telegrams he received were also part of his collection. He asked several people for their telegrams too. G. Balakrishna Das, president, said that the exhibition will be on for another 15 days at the Philatelic Bureau on Anna Salai.
The exhibition captures not just how the telegram was used by the establishment but also by ordinary people eager to send out an urgent message. One of the exhibits shows a translation in Tamil at the back of the telegram so that it could be understood. , as many had to rely on others to read the contents in English. There is telegram sent for purchase of a horse, and another which reads “LILA RECOVERED DON’T PROCEED TO CALCUTTA”. The word ‘urgent’ was printed in red on the cover of the telegram. But, it may be too late now. “We are the last people to use the service and also to disown it,” said Mr. Karunakaran.