New Delhi, India
By Mansi Thapliyal
At 10 p.m. on July 14, India will send its final telegram before the service shuts the following day, signaling the end of a service that has been going for over 160 years. It is the latest means of communication to be killed off by the mobile Internet age.
From families waiting to hear from their children who migrated to India’s cities for work, to soldiers in remote areas for whom the telegram was the only way to stay in touch with relatives, the telegraph service has been used to connect millions of people across this vast country since the mid-19th Century.
Charged per word, some messages went on and on, while others chose to write single words like “love” – a simple message to express how they felt.
Today at the Central Telegraph Office in the heart of New Delhi, most of the counters are unmanned. Thirty years ago, the office was packed full with 500 members of staff, working non-stop to send around 20,000 messages a day as customers waited in long lines. Now, that number is only 20.
Telegraphist Veronica remembers what it was like being in the office 30 years ago: “This room would be full of people, it sounded like a factory. We had no time to talk to each other or even exchange a glimpse.” Messenger Om Dutt would deliver sacks of telegrams in the 1980s on his bicycle across New Delhi. Now, as he stepped out of the office, he had only a handful to deliver, most of them to government departments.