For senior citizens in Chennai, it is the end of an era.
The announcement that Chennai Telephones of BSNL will discontinue telegram services — the fastest mode of communication until a decade ago — rekindled fond memories of this harbinger of good and bad news.
Some, like S.M. Chellaswamy, a senior citizen residing in Royapettah, still preserve the telegrams they received on special occasions. “I got the maximum number of telegrams on my wedding day. I still remember them: ‘Best wishes for a long and happy married life’ and ‘May heaven’s choicest blessings be showered on the young couple’, with the greeting codes 8 and 16,” he said.
Several government departments also used to use the service to convey news of job transfers to employees, he added.
For others, like Prema Sriram of Villivakkam, the prospect of telegrams was always accompanied by a slight fear — the service was very often used to convey the news of a sudden death. “I would be very worried when the postman knocked on the door in the night. It took me many years to get over that and to realise that some telegrams also carried other news,” she said.
With the advent of mobile and internet communication, the nearly 160-year-old service has been slowly dying over the past decade.
At present, Chennai Telephones offers telegram services at 20 centres that used to be called district telegraph offices. Even though the centres are still sought after for bulk telegrams by legal firms or when it comes to conveying messages of social issues, patronage for the service has dwindled considerably, officials said
Sources at Chennai Telephones said these offices, including those in Egmore, Koyambedu and West Mambalam, now serve as bill collection and customer care centres. The Central Telegraph office, which operates out of the iconic building on Rajaji Salai too, has been converted into a bill collection centre.
Each centre books 10-20 telegrams daily. But there are days when the centres do not book even a single telegram, officials said. The telegrams are printed and delivered by BSNL staff members to addresses that are located within a radius of 8 km. “We deliver the telegrams to addresses that are beyond 8 km by post. The purpose of telegrams is lost when they are delivered a day late,” said a source.
Officials of the postal department said that they closed booking and delivery services six years ago.