Sunday, July 14, 2013

Open letter to the Telegram (Day 14: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

Dear Telegram/Taar,

Today is your last day. When the clock strikes 9 pm tonight, you will join the ranks of those that have made such a difference in the lives of us middle-class Indians. You've earned your rest.

Where you go, you will probably meet the 25-paise coin. Do convey my warmest regards and affection. You are both stalwarts of an era that India has left far behind. Sometimes I'm not sure if we're really happier today than we were when you were in your prime.

You have little place in an India where everyone, from children to adults, has access to their own talk time. Today, making STD calls is no longer a matter of standing in queue after 10.30 pm, when the tariff would dip to one-third and the queues jump up to more than 10 times. In the old days, I remember Dad telling me, one had to stand in a queue to send out a telegram.

I remember how crisp you were with your words. In those days, a little had to convey so much. You had codes for the general celebrations. There were codes to wish people for Independence Day, Republic Day, for each of the festivals celebrated in this great country, to celebrate births, confer blessings on married couples, wish youngsters on success in examinations, wish people a speedy recovery, wish somebody a happy retired life, to thank people for their wishes and even to reciprocate good wishes. I once heard that couples used you to inform both sets of parents that they had eloped. 

The sight of the telegram postman at the door was enough to fill us with a sense of dread and foreboding. Oh, no, what could have happened? Did old Aunt X succumb to her illness? Or did Uncle Y meet with a horrific accident? He was always one to drive rashly. And then it would turn out to be Cousin Z who had given birth to a bonny baby girl, and of course, Mum and baby were well. And we would all exhale with relief and deign to smile at the telegram man.

Sometimes, in an uneventful year, the whole year would go by without a visit from the telegram man, but he would show up at Diwali and Christmas time. Baksheesh. He would say that one word, and we would know that he had come to claim his dues for the year. Never mind that we hadn't seen him throughout the year.

So much has changed. Earlier it was Morse code that was used, then telex machines came in, only to give way to electronic printers and computers. But the greater change is in the number and variety of the options available for quick communication today. In today's India, the vegetable vendor, college student and the fish monger alike, everyone has a cellphone. Today's generation, swimming amid quick, cheaper and even free options like SMS, emails, What'sApp, Facebook etc haven't even heard of you. Even landline telephone services have become cheaper. 

Other than government channels, few people use you anymore. The cost of sending out a telegram was hiked in May 2011 to Rs 27 per 50 words. But even that was not enough of a carrot for an India where more than 900 million people own mobile phones and 120 million use the Internet. You were in any case doddering on your last legs.

One India still has a use for you, but no one has a use for that India.

For 163 years, you've served this country well. You fulfilled an important purpose. Without you, we would have floundered in a sea of chaos and lack of information.

And now it is time for you to enjoy your well-deserved rest.

Thank you, dear Telegram, for all your services to middle class India.

I hope you enjoy your final run today. And after that, it will be STOP forever.


  1. Cynthia, I admire your choice of posts. I rack my brains for themes.Loved your post today. The mere sight of the telegram man knocking on your door would even send the neighbours scurrying. This was the fear and awe that the telegram evoked.

  2. What a great tribute to the telegram. Gosh I remember those days and the baksheesh too. Very nice.

  3. I never have send a telegram ... I do regret for that now.

  4. Thank you, Kalpana. This topic practically suggested itself. I have never sent out a telegram but I have seen the excitement it evoked.

  5. Thanks, Suzy. That guy was powerful. He knew that he performed a very valuable service.

  6. Hi, You still can send a telegram. The last one will be sent out at 9 pm tonight.

  7. Cynthia, I remember the feeling of foreboding attached with it.. I had seen it once in my last time..used by my parents..It is a Goodbye telegram.. Rest in Peace..Wish there was a telegram to announce that one

  8. it is such a joy to read you Cynthia....I have grown so fond of the way you write, and im really happy UBC brought us closer!

    I have seen my parents send and receive telegrams, but i have never had the chance to send one this valuable invention will be lost on millions like me! anyway adieu telegram ji!

  9. That's excellent Cynthia! I never sent a telegram ever but I guess, all that you mentioned rings a bell with me cuz I have seen that in times too :)

  10. ah! this took me down memory lane. I have seen telegrams when I was a kid. I have stood in queues with my parents to make trunk calls :) gone are those days :(
    such a lovely and befitting tribute your post gave to the telegrams :)

  11. that's such a lovely letter :) .. super tribute .. me too remember the telegram man coming was like some bad news coming in.. and how mom used to be scared...

  12. This is an awesome tribute. I don't believe I have ever received or sent a telegram in my life. A text message yes, but not a telegram.


  13. And it'a all over by now. Wonderful tribute to the telegram....

  14. This is such a bful ode to telegram in sweetest possbl words cynthia :) good one

  15. What a beautiful tribute to the telegram. I remember sending so many telegrams as a school kid to family and friends. The last one that I had received was from husband during our courtship days. No points for guessing the message in it! :D

  16. Such a deep post. I liked the line where you mentioned about us being more happy when telegram was there. Of course when I think about it I wonder if there is more to those words in a larger sense.

    The aspect of std calls I keep citing it to husband all the time. So many incidents to share from that era. Remember once mausa called mummy and how he told the operator, "I am speaking to my sister in law after a long time, ek aur minute lagao" How precious those moments were...


  17. I loved this post!
    The sweets that 25 paise coin used to buy!! Bliss!
    And it was such a thrill when I sent my first telegram to my grandpa, wishing him on his birthday!! :)
    I used to receive one on my birthday as well! :)



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