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'Dear readers, here's a telegram from us to keep the memory alive'

Going by the buzz at the Central Telegraph Office at Fort, one can scarce tell that the march of uber-modern technology will drown out the click-clack of 163-year-old message service in the coming 48 hours. 

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, the state-own telco which runs the service, will send the last telegram on Monday. The imminent final stop has made many Mumbaikars look up from their smartphones and head out to the heritage building of the CTO to send a wire to their loved ones, mostly to be part of its passage into the reliquary.

Faithful to the prevailing sentiment, your daily paper decided to do the same and share the experience with you. We sent across five telegrams to a few select readers. Here, we walk you through the day we sent our last telegrams, and how we did it.

The message read: ‘Dear Reader, the telegram will die soon. Here’s one from us to keep the memory alive. Thank you for reading MiD DAY and supporting us.’

We were informed that once the telegram was sent out, it would reach the post office concerned in a few minutes. Four of our reporters stationed themselves at the respective post offices, waiting for the telegram to arrive. They would accompany the ‘postman’ who would be taking the telegrams home to our readers. Here’s how the day unfolded.

Reader: Narayan Sarma
Location: Deonar Post Office


Prakash Pawar from Deonar Post Office delivers the telegram to Narayan Sarma

The journey: Prakash Pawar, from Deonar Post Office, was assigned to deliver the telegram to Sarma’s house. Pawar has been in this service for 30 years. The reporter left the post office with him at 11.10 am. The commute was no breeze, given the ceaseless downpour yesterday. We traveled by bus and hoofed it for over half an hour. 

Reader’s reaction: Sarma was elated on receiving our telegram. He said, “In this age, we are all computer savvy and make use of emails to communicate. But one can never forget that there are still many places in the country that do not have access to internet or any other mode of communication. I don’t know why the government has taken this decision to stop the telegram service. I hope it doesn’t cause problems for those living in rural areas.

The deliveryman’s reaction: Pawar, the post person in charge for delivering the telegram, seemed to have mixed feelings about the impending shutdown. He was happy that he would no longer be required to travel all across the city to ensure a timely delivery, but it was the end of an era, he said.

Reader: Andrew Fernandes
Location: Prabhadevi Telephone Exchange


Postmaster Sakaram Lakshman Kadam hands over the telegram to Andrew Fernandes

The journey: Sakaram Lakshman Kadam, employed in the service for over three decades, was responsible for the telegram to Fernandes. He, along with our reporter waiting at the Exchange, left with the telegram at 12.30 pm from the Exchange and arrived at the recipient’s residence at 1 pm.

Reaction of the reader: Our reader was surprised. He signed off on the document, unsure if it was a telegram or a letter. He asked Kadam, who confirmed his hunch. Andrew said he had not received a telegram in years. “Telegrams were common many years ago but as time and technology leapt ahead, the internet replaced the telegram,” said Fernandes.

The deliveryman’s reaction: Sakaram Lakshman Kadam (57) a resident of Panvel said, “I have been delivering these telegrams for 34 years now. Even though I have almost reached my retirement, I am worried about my job. The decision has been made and we will be shifted to other departments. I wonder what jobs we will get and where we will be placed.”

Reader: Anita Morjani
Location: Agripada Post Office


Anita Morjani with postmaster BB Borse.

The journey: B B Borse was charged with carrying the message to Morjani’s residence at Kemps Corner. The pounding rains hardly seemed to dampen Borse’s enthusiasm, who has been delivering telegrams for 30 years. Borse and our reporter, swept up by sheer eagerness, reached Morjani’s residence around 1 pm.

Reaction of the reader: Morjani, unsure what it was that she had received, was a little amazed. “I am very happy to receive a telegram. I will keep it is as a memory. I grew up receiving telegrams as a child, and I feel that it should not be shut down.”

The deliveryman’s reaction: Working as a messenger, Borse is happy with the work he is doing. “It’s been 30 years. There is a special bond that I have formed with certain people to whom I have been delivering telegrams. Meeting them is a very important part of my life.”

Reader: Ved Prakash Jaiswal
Location: Central Telegraph Office, Fort


Postmaster R B Gangaonkar gives MiD DAY’s telegram to Ved Prakash Jaiswal’s father Shayamlal Jaiswal at their shop 

The Journey: R B Gangaokar from the CTO was assigned to deliver the telegram to Lohar chawl, where our reader resides. On the way he recounted the olden days, when he would carry a sack of telegrams that were to be handed out. “But now, I can easily fit them all in my hand,” he said. 

Reader’s reaction: After walking for quite a distance we reached a small electrical shop at Lohar chawl. We were informed that Ved Prakash had not come to the shop because of the heavy rains. So his father accepted the telegram on his behalf. When we told him we were from MiD DAY, he showed us a copy of the day’s edition, emphasizing his son was a loyal reader.

The deliveryman says: “Walking long distances becomes an integral part of our life. Now that age is catching up, it gets tiring to climb stairs, especially when the steps are too far apart or steep. “I think the government should not completely shut the telegram service. It’s still an important mode of communication for many people in this country,” said Gangaokar.

Reader: Dimple Chitnis
Location: BSNL office


The domestic help at Chitnis’ house collecting the telegram from deliveryman Ganagaram Damu Mate

The journey: Gangaram Damu Mate was tasked with carting our telegram. The wet and bumpy ride from Naupada to Hiranandani Meadows would have been usual but for Mate, who keenly shared his experience of 37 years of delivering telegrams, and voiced his thoughts on the status quo at the telegraph office.

Reaction of the reader: After reaching the Chitnis household, we realised the family was not home. So we left the telegram with the house help. Later, we called up the reader to ask if she had received it. She said she had and added, “I don’t communicate using telegrams and won’t be affected by the government’s move to shut it.”

The deliveryman’s reaction: “I have seen the gradual slide in the number of telegrams we get. A early as five to six years back, we used to deliver at least 500-600 telegrams daily. But now the figure has thinned down. We get around 100-150 telegrams per day for delivery,” said Mate.

Did you know?
>> Telegram is a legal document accepted in the court.
>> Besides the telegram, messages were also sent using phonogram
>> Telegraphs sent via phone. The person receiving the message is trained to talk in a particular manner so that no time is wasted and the message is taken quickly.
>> There is a numbered chart of 39 preset messages for occasions like birthday or festivals, which can be sent out without delay. When a person chooses a particular message, the number associated with that message is put in on the telegram. When the receiving office gets the telegram, they see the number on the chart available with them, and type it out so it can be sent out to the recipient.
>> Telegrams bearing news of passing away are known to jump the queue, for obvious reasons.

BSNL employees stage sit-in
A group from the BSNL Employees Union sat in protest outside the CTO on Friday morning, to resist the closure of the service. They said they were seriously concerned about the unilateral shutdown by the management. They felt it was incumbent upon the management to consult the recognised unions before taking such a drastic step.

P Abhimanyu, general secretary of the union, said, “We are deeply saddened over the telegraph shutting down completely. Defence services, among many others, still send a large number of telegrams all over the country regarding tenders, leave of personnel and so on.”  

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