India Insight

In search of the lost telegram

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

I sent my first and last telegram over the weekend, thanks to the flood of newspaper reports that warned of India’s telegraph service winding up after more than 160 years.

My curiosity was fuelled by memories of Bollywood movies from the 1960s and 70s. On receiving a telegram, the hero’s mother either fainted or treated the family to sweetmeats – depending on whether the news was good or bad.

The best known telegram in Indian fiction is probably the one in R.K. Narayan’s “Malgudi Days” collection. In a popular short story, the fictional messenger doesn’t deliver a telegram with news of a relative’s death because it could have ruined someone’s wedding day.

But my news wasn’t as momentous. My telegram was to be a souvenir, one of the few thousand dispatched on July 14, the day India shut its state-run telegraph service for good.

I sent a telegram to my mother in Dwarka, an outlying neighbourhood of New Delhi. It’s been 48 hours and she still hasn’t received it.

from Photographers' Blog:

A farewell message to the telegram

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.

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