Message is clear for these messengers AT WORK

Getting set: Telegraph messengers sorting out telegrams at the Central Telegraph Office in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: V.Ganesan

Petlee Peter

Recruitment for the post of telegraph men stopped some years ago

CHENNAI: Day or night, rain or shine, these men on duty must deliver the specified message, good or bad, within 60 minutes from the telegraph office. Latest advancements in telecommunication have lessened the charm of this profession and the workload of the telegraph men, but the difficulties they face remain.

In Chennai, the historical communication system is alive in 17 Telegraph offices. The Telegraph Department is now under the Chennai Telephones and has evolved from the Morse code to tele-printer to a web-based telegraph system.

Telegraph men cannot stop recounting the anecdotes or challenges they encounter. Dog bites and getting mugged, for example, is common on the job. Fifty-nine-year-old R. Kuppusamy, attached to the Central Telegraph Office in Second Line, Beach, has been a telegraph man (outdoor) since 1973.

“My work required me to go out mainly in the night, find the address and deliver the messages. I have been robbed a number of times and have lost more than eight bicycles after robbers snatched them from me. The biggest menace for us is street dogs at night. It is hard to spot a messenger who hasn’t been bitten by a dog at least once,” says Mr. Kuppusamy.

To compensate for dog bite at work, the department gives one week special casual leave.

Earlier, telegrams were classified as X OS (ordinary), OS (condition critical) and XX (for death) and were charged between Rs.3.50 and Rs.7. Today, only express telegrams prevail with a booking cost of Rs.28 for 30 words. However, death messages are still accepted at a subsidised rate of Rs.5 for 30 words. “There was a time when each messenger had to deliver more than 100-150 messages a day. Today, it has reduced to 20-25 messages, which include telegrams for bank defaulters, vehicle seizures, advocate notices and messages to the Chief Minister’s cell,” says telegraph man D. Sivasankaran.

Telegraph men were once seen as those bringing bad news, and there have been instances where women cursed them on arrival to their locality.

Apart from the speedy delivery of a message, getting a ‘received signature’ from the recipient is part of a telegraph man’s duty.

“I had gone to deliver a message regarding a death to a woman living alone in Adambakkam in 1988. She read the message and fainted. I had to wait for the next 30 minutes for things to settle and get a signature from her,” recalls N. Nanda Kumar, who has been in service since 1983. Only one telegraph office, on Ethiraj Salai, functions round the clock. Recruitment for the post of telegraph men stopped some years ago. The day is not far when this profession will be only in history books, according to some telegraph men.