“This is my first ever telegram! It’s sad that it’s going to be last one too.”
— Darwin T, Chennai
“This is a telegram? I somehow expected it to be a small inland letter.”
— Kalathmika Natarajan, Delhi
“I got so scared when I heard the fellow say he had a telegram for me! Telegrams always bring bad news, no?”
— Preethi R, Chennai
“This was such a nice gesture. I never would have thought to send a telegram or receive one, especially now that it’s closing.”
— Rajagopal, Chennai
These were the immediate reactions from people who received a telegram from this reporter, reading —“This is a piece of history. Preserve it.” It was just a rectangular sheet of paper. Yet, it inspired so many emotions, ranging from fear and worry to surprise and happiness among Gen Y, when they realised that what they were holding would become some of the last telegrams sent in this country.
For Kalathmika, a Chennaiite who currently lives in Delhi, the telegram itself was not so much a surprise as the size of it. “It came in this big rectangle sheet. I always imagined it to be a tiny chit, with text printed in unreadable sizes. I mean, that’s how most films showcased it, right,” she said. While all the recipients were unanimous in the appreciation of the telegrams they received (The telegram was the first one they had ever received), some of them were only anxious at the moment they received it.
“Who would be sending and receiving telegrams in this day and age? More than me, my mother got completely freaked out on learning there was a telegram waiting for me. Imagine our relief when it was just a simple message,” sighed Preethi. Rajagopal and Darwin, on the other hand, saw the telegram as a sweet gesture and something to cherish and hold on to after the service is closed. Darwin, inspired by this gesture, also resolved to send telegrams to all his friends before the service stops forever.
Apart from wanting to know how people would react upon receiving a telegram, which is in its last days, this reporter, who has never seen a telegram before, didn’t want to miss out on a ‘historic experience’ of sending one. But it also turned out to be a learning experience as S Dhananjayadu, who has been working at the still-busy telegram office at the General Post Office at Rajaji Salai, not only cheerfully sent the 15 telegrams without batting an eyelid, but also took time out to show this reporter how it was done. And like the rest of Gen Y’s youngsters who thought they still used the old telegraph machine and Morse Code to send messages, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the service had switched to computers. “It’s almost like email only. We send the message here and it goes to the intended area’s telegraph office instantly, where they print out the message and send it through,” said Dhananjayadu with a huge smile on his face.
Telegrams to areas that do not have a telegraph office are sent by post from the nearest available office.
Perhaps that explained why out of the 15 telegrams sent, barely five or six people responded. While a telegram to areas like Vepery, Aminjikarai, Kodambakkam and Safdarjung in Delhi reached the very next day, places like Alandur, St Thomas Mount and Gurgaon in Haryana, didn’t get the telegrams in the same time period. “That’s because they might not have a telegram office. It will be sent by normal post, which takes at least two to three days to deliver,” explained Dhananjayadu.
And if you thought sending them would be an expensive affair, how does Rs 28 per message sound? “That is the minimum charge for a telegram. We charge one rupee per word, so if it goes beyond 28 words, it becomes extra,” explained Kasturi Sriram at the telegram office. “But this is nothing. Up until five years or so ago, the minimum charge was `350. Imagine how expensive that would have turned out to be if people wanted to send multiple telegrams?”
Well, fortunately for you (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), you have today and tomorrow to send that telegram. Just head to your nearest telegraph office and fill up a small form. Telegram sent... History made... And for those collectors of rare and vintage stuff, a couple of decades will make your telegram rare and vintage too.