News Karnataka
Monday, December 11 2023

163-year-old Telegram service, bids adieu

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The 163-year old telegram service in the country the harbinger of good and bad news for generations of Indians is dead.


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Once the fastest means of communication for millions of people, the humble telegram was on Sunday buried without any requiem but for the promise of preserving the last telegram as a museum piece.

Nudged out by technology – SMS, emails, mobile phones – the iconic service gradually faded into oblivion with less and less people taking recourse to it.

Started in 1850 on an experimental basis between Kolkata and DiamondHarbour, it was opened for use by the British East India Company the following year.

In 1854, the service was made available to the public.

It was such an important mode of communication in those days that revolutionaries fighting for the countrys independence used to cut the telegram lines to stop the British from communicating.

Stories of telegraphists: Down the memory lane

“Telegrams gave us our bread and identity”

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Memories of an era gone by are all that remains for telegraphists, considered the backbone of the historic 163-year-old telegram service, which bids its final adieu.

The state-run telecom firm BSNL has decided to discontinue telegrams following a huge shortfall in revenue.

“Sunday is the last day for telegram services. The service will start at 8 am and close by 9 pm,” BSNL CMD R K Upadhyay said.

“The service will not be available from Monday.”

Septuagenarian Gulshan Rai Vij, who retired in 1997 as a veteran telegraphist after serving almost four decades in a government job, recalls working in the “golden era of the telegram”.

“Telegrams were notorious for bringing bad news, of war casualties and death from accidents. But, now it brings the news of its own demise. We have seen the peak of this service and worked in its golden era. New technology replaces the old, but telegrams gave us our bread and butter and our identity, so, indeed it feels sad to see it depart so unceremoniously,” Vij said.

For Krishna Kumar Yadav, an award-winning telegraphist at the CTO, who retires in 2015, the day of January 25, 2002 still brings memories of “learning the importance of his job” and “finding his own strength”.

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“It was the noon of January 25, and I started sending telegrams and kept sending until I realised it was 7 am in the morning when l left my post. In those 19 hours, I sent 5,875 telegrams which is still a record. For this service I was awarded the ‘Sanchar Seva Padak'”, Yadav said.

Though telegrams mostly meant bad news, there were also ‘Greetings Telegrams’ which came with a printed message of the nature of its content. And, then there were ‘Phonograms’ too which were booked through telephones.

“People would ask for phrases like ‘Many Many happy Returns of the Day’ or ‘Happy Anniversary’ and there were codes to choose these phrases and one then paid accordingly.

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In phonograms, one booked a trunk call and then after confirmation the telegram would be delivered and the bill would either be attached with the phone bill or be sent separately later by mail,” Vij said.

Railways also provided facilities for people to book tickets through telegrams from the station.

“I have used it. One would go to a telegram office at a station and ask for a ticket booking from a different station. The telegram would be sent to the corresponding station and the passenger would carry a slip which he would show at the telegram office at the other station to collect the ticket,” Abbas, who worked earlier as a locomotive driver, said.

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The first experimental electric telegraph line was started between Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Diamond Harbour in 1850 and was opened for use by the British East India Company the following year.

In 1854, the service was made available to the public.

There are about 75 telegram centres in the country, with less than 1,000 employees to manage them.

BSNL will absorb these employees and deploy them to manage mobile services, landline telephony and broadband services.

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