Thinking about telegram days

On July 14, 2013, telegraph service in India was stopped for good. It was a deep feeling of bidding adieu to some dear and near ones. Telegraph service was once an essential part of social life and now it is no more.
Telegraph service was introduced in India in 1850 as an experiment between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour. It was made available to the public from 1854. It became very popular throughout India as a very successful fast service of sending important messages, especially during emergency period like war, political insurgency, appointment or transfer of government officers etc and in domestic affairs, like news of death, birth, accident or any mishap.
The telegraphic language was very short and different. It was a sentence with minimum words like ‘Wire Health’ which means, ‘Inform the condition of your health through telegram’.
During mid 19th century, when telegraph service came to India, people had little knowledge of English. There was a common belief that telegram carries only death news; and whenever any telegram reached anybody’s house, they would start crying, bemoaning and sobbing without knowing the subject of the letter.
Gradually, with the advent of English education, popularity of telegraph service increased and other than serious information, birthday greetings, marriage greetings etc came into practice and telegraph service became an essential part of social life.
The birthday greetings telegrams, with colourful coverage were great asset for children who would preserve them with care. The marriage greetings or greetings of congratulations on success of Exams etc had a great thrilling value which people miss even today. But it is fact that the word ‘telegram’ evoked a dreadful feeling among all till it was opened with trembling hands.
Many funny stories are there regarding telegraphic information, one of them I may share here. It was early part of the 20th century; a village boy ‘Bimal’ from erstwhile Assam went to Calcutta to study MBBS. He used to keep in touch with his parents through postal letters. After five years suddenly a telegram reached his father, who was illiterate. The family thought some mishap might have occurred and everyone started crying. The neighbours assembled to console them. The telegram was not opened till then. The father accompanied by some neighbours rushed to the house of a teacher, who stayed two miles away from the village. The teacher also got nervous to see the crying father and opened the telegram with trembling hands where it was written, ‘BIMAL PASSED MBBS’. The teacher burst into laughter and congratulated the father.
That was the fun of telegraphic service. Old timers can recall that receiving a telegram was an event itself because there was always an element of urgency!
After completion of 163 years of successful service, telegraph service had to be stopped because of the advent of mobile phones and internet, which are faster and more convenient and less expensive than telegram. So, telegraph service was abandoned. The most useful telegraphic machineries were one day the mainstay and backbone of the country’s communications but they are useless and lifeless today. The telegraph poles and wires still exist.
Though internet service is more convenient, the contributions of telegraph service cannot be ignored. The important telegrams of the ancient period could be preserved and which are valuable documents today. We feel nostalgic for its passing.

(Contributed by Uma Purkayastha)