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India Marks End of Era with Last Telegram

  • Aru Pande

Thousands of people crowded telegraph offices around India to send the country's last telegrams, as the government shut down the 163-year old service on Sunday.

Most Sunday afternoons, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi - let alone people lined up in the rain. But this day is different. For engineer Rasmeet Chawla - it is the end of an era.

“I am here for the same reason as everybody. This is the last day, and I wanted to have a souvenir of this telegraph medium,” he admitted.

Most of the people who crowded the office were young and have grown up in the age of mobile phones and e-mail, technology that eventually helped make the telegram obsolete.

But others like Neelima Chandak, who brought her 19-year old daughter to the office, remembered the weight the small slip of paper carried when it was finally delivered to its destination.

“Most of the time, it used to be anxiety. As soon as you heard the word ‘telegram,’ you mostly associated it with news of death and sometimes a job,” she recalled.

On July 14, the last for the Central Telegraph Office in the Indian capital, most of the telegrams carried nostalgic messages and good wishes for loved ones. By late Sunday, with just a few hours to go before the doors closed for good, 1,500 telegrams had been processed - compared to 10 to 20 on any other day.

An employee for 31 years, Jagdish Chand joked the telegraph service would never have incurred huge losses and be shut down had it seen crowds like this through the years.

Still, he said he is proud to be part of a communication mode that carried messages during India’s fight for independence and was a vital part of Indians’ day-to-day life.

“If someone had to be picked up at the railway station or from the airport, the telegram used to reach [their loved ones’ homes] on the same day," he explained. "I was very happy that along with doing my job, I was also doing a public service.”

His service along with that of about 1,000 other workers across India will no longer be needed. Many will either retire or be transferred to other departments within state-owned telecommunications company BSNL - which will continue its focus on expanding Internet and mobile phone services across India.

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