History & Culture

Remembering telegrams


11-year-old Jishnu PS is the youngest telegram collector of Karnataka, who will be part of the Philately Exhibition from January 9 to 11

Ahead of the District level Philately Exhibition ‘Rakshapex 2020’ at Bengaluru organised by the Department of Posts on January 9, 10 and 11 at Malleswaram, 11-year-old Jishnu PS is happy to say he would be a participant there showcasing his original telegrams.

Telegrams is not a very common subject of interest or hobby to many, but Jishnu, a 6th standard student of Bunts Sangha RNS Vidya Niketan in Vijayanagar, is exited that he was pulled into this past-time as some of his family members are numismatics and philately collectors who generated the interest. “Even out of curiosity I would be asking my family members about what telegrams were, and how it would help people then. I would be shocked to hear that telegrams were the fastest mode of communication. It is hard to believe, as we are enjoying the age of email and mobile phones now,” says Jishnu, who is eager to showcase his telegrams, 125original in all that he has collected. “I have sourced a lot on my own, but my grandpa septuagenarian P. Subramanyam Setty, a member of the Karnataka Numismatics Society, too helped me,” he says.

Popularly known as taar, what most of the elderly remember about telegrams is the shock they had in 2011 when BSNL hiked the price of telegram after 60 years from four rupees to 27 rupees (for 50 words). By then it was already a loss-making unit and 2013 saw the last of telegrams in India. “I remember my father, a businessman, telling me so much about this “fastest mode of communication” which was seen as the harbinger of change. Although telegrams brought good and bad news for 160 years in India, the ‘something urgent’ feature in it always made us fear,” recalls Subramanyam Setty.

As far as Setty knows, nobody has collected telegrams, and the family thought this ‘relic of the past’ would be a record for people to see in the coming generations. “Whenever we spoke about telegrams, my grandson Jishnu would ask us umpteen questions and would say, “I will collect telegrams.”

To take his interest across, the family wrote to the Post Master General about Jishnu’s rare collection. “Last year Jishnu was given a special permission to take part in the State level Philately Exhibition ‘Karnapex 2019’ conducted in Mangaluru where he was the youngest boy to display two frames (32 sheets) of original telegrams and the only one to take part in the telegram category,” states Setty. “I am happy that my first participation at the Mangaluru Philately exhibition got me a Broze medal, and that was another inspiration for me,” adds Jishnu, already a member of the Karnataka Philately Society.

“There are plain telegrams, those with festival and marriage greetings and with advertisements on the side and on the envelope,” says Jishnu who has telegrams from 1907 to 2013. “I also have telegram booking forms. I have collected telegrams from all over India. I persuaded people to part with their telegrams to help my collection. Showing his telegram of 1914 sent from Burma to India during the World War I, which was censored by the Government, Jishnu says, “My dream is to take part in the National Philately Exhibition. I request people to send me rare telegrams.”

History of the telegram service

Dating back to 1850, the first telegraph line in India, though only experimental, was established between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour, with the British East India Company using the telegraph in 1851. It took them three years to lay the telegraph lines across the country. India opened its telegraph service to public in 1854 and the first telegram was sent from Mumbai to Pune. The telegraph services thrived after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876. The 1980s saw the golden period as more than one lakh telegrams were being sent and received per day, especially in Delhi. From 1902, the Indian system went wireless. Gradually the telephone in the late 1990s slowed down the telegraph service, soon making it a loss-incurring facility. The government decided to stop telegrams in 2013, a communication service that had served the people of India for over 160 years.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 3:47:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/jishnu-ps/article30522202.ece

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