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Sad news for the harbinger of good and bad

Olympia Shilpa Gerald
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A retired telegraph employee goes down memory lane

Mariappan, a retired telegraph man, says he never returned empty-handed when he went to wedding halls to deliver greetings.
Mariappan, a retired telegraph man, says he never returned empty-handed when he went to wedding halls to deliver greetings.

The only vehicle that Mariappan had used for 38 years was an old bicycle, which he recently replaced with a moped, following his retirement.

With his faithful escort, Mr. Mariappan has pedalled around Tiruchi, doing the only job he has known for four decades — delivering telegrams.

With telegrams delivered by post in recent years and likely to be stopped altogether if the Telecom Department’s decision is final, men like Mr. Mariappan have already become anachronisms. When Mr. Mariappan joined the service, there was a dedicated team of men recruited for delivering telegrams at the doorstep of the addressees, but by the time he retired, there were only one or two delivery men at the Central Telegraph Office.

“A postman, then had four streets to cover, but a telegraph man had 42 streets,” says Mr. Mariappan who often covered an 8-km radius from offices where he was posted. “A minimum of 14 telegrams were to be delivered on a single shift. For every extra telegram, we were given incentives,” he says. Delivering telegrams at a wedding hall was always a pleasure, recalls Mr. Mariappan. For as the bearer of good wishes, he was never sent back empty-handed. But it was not always a hearty welcome that awaited him at the end of the road, particularly when he was the messenger of death. Although Mr. Mariappan acknowledges getting used to delivering bad news as part of the routine, he says: “I never forgot the sound advice I received from my superiors: do not blurt out the news at first. Always get the receipt signed and then deliver the message.” Once, when Mr. Mariappan informed a man of his kin’s death, the recipient collapsed clutching his chest.

Rain or shine

The 1977 floods is etched strongly in Mr. Mariappan’s mind. “We received hundreds of telegrams from anxious relatives. I remember pushing my bicycle through waist-deep water and delivering the messages.” But among his unforgettable reminiscences are midnight rides to deliver important messages. He recalls a 10-kilometre ride from Teppakulam to Muthurasanallur in 1974. “It was pitch dark and pouring heavily, but my supervisor said it was an important message. All I had was a raincoat and torch. When I neared Muthurasanallur, I had to pedal down an incline. I was suddenly blinded by bright flashing lights. It was a lorry and I was thrown off the bicycle.” A bruised Mr. Mariappan managed to deliver the telegram an hour later. Mr. Mariappan finds it hard to bid goodbye to telegrams. “Thanthi than enakku soru pottuchu,” (the telegram gave me my daily bread), he says, his voice quivering.

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