The service which brought good, bad messages ended on Sunday

Memories of an era gone by are all that remains for telegraphists, considered the backbone of the historic 163-year-old telegram service which came to an end on Sunday.

The State-run telecom firm BSNL has decided to discontinue telegrams following a huge shortfall in revenue.

“Sunday is the last day for telegram services. The service will start at 8 a.m. and close by 9 p.m.,” BSNL CMD R.K. Upadhyay said.

Septuagenarian Gulshan Rai Vij, who retired in 1997 as a veteran telegraphist after serving almost four decades in a government job, recalls working in the “golden era of the telegram.”

“Telegrams were notorious for bringing bad news, of war casualties and death from accidents. But, now it brings the news of its own demise. We have seen the peak of this service and worked in its golden era. New technology replaces the old, but telegrams gave us our bread and butter and our identity, so, indeed it feels sad to see it depart so unceremoniously,” Vij told PTI.

Mr. Vij says he “maintained his composure” around the India-Pakistan war in 1971 and the turbulent days of the Emergency from 1975-77 as he continued to deliver messages, “not allowing himself to be emotionally involved”.

“I was posted in Rohtak then. The 1971 war was when we worked round the clock without concern for food and water.

Messages of war casualties would come from the defence headquarters and we would just keep punching away the news as fast as possible.

“As a telegraphist, one could not have gotten emotionally involved with the sad situation because there were thousands of messages to be delivered on time, and we did our job in the best possible capacity. We were all driven by a national spirit and it just powered us to work in such tough and testing times,” he said.

For the world outside, a telegram operator’s job might be the most mundane but only a telegraphist knows the joys and the challenges of working on the telegraph machine, which saw its avatar change from the early Morse Code era to the teleprinters and the current Internet-based service.

Mr. Vij, who also later served as the telegraph training instructor for years, said, “The sound of the Morse Code machine which is operated by a key and the tone of dots and dashes still ring in my head. Even today, I can recognise any alphabet if you operate that machine. For others, it might be boring but for us, it was the most wonderful feel to operating those machines and connecting people with speed. Telegrams were the SMSs of today, short and swift,” he said.

“Telegraph is a must in a developing country. People in interior villages still need an inexpensive messaging service as private telephone companies don’t want to go to there. For, banks and for the Army dedicated services are run, and even today for jawans on the border, application for holidays is done through telegrams only.” says M S Arya, a veteran at the CTO.

For Krishna Kumar Yadav, an award-winning telegraphist at the CTO, who retires in 2015, the day of January 25, 2002 still brings memories of “learning the importance of his job” and “finding his own strength”.

“It was the noon of January 25, and I started sending telegrams and kept sending until I realised it was 7 a.m. in the morning when l left my post. In those 19 hours, I sent 5,875 telegrams which is still a record. For this service I was awarded the ‘Sanchar Seva Padak,” Mr. Yadav said.

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