The year before last, I saw a telegram after ages. An old friend of my father-in-law had sent him one to greet him on his sathabhishekam (eightieth birthday). All the children gaped in wonder at what they thought was a primitive mode of communication. And then, I told them what telegrams meant during early childhood before we had telephones.
Most of the telegrams were sent and received to convey the coming and going of dear ones. Dozens were received during functions, especially weddings. I still remember the numbers on the telegram chart at the the telephone exchange that would bless the receiver ‘with a long and prosperous married life’. But they were also the harbinger of bad news, a serious illness or death. So a telegram mostly after 6pm was received in pure terror. I still remember vividly the telegram that came from Bihar announcing my 16-year-old cousin’s passing away. There were many more and you’d sometimes understand all was not well when the man handed it over. Maybe the look on his face said it all.
But telegrams mostly did their job to induce panic. I once received an interview letter at Brooke Bond from Bangalore via telegram at 9pm (when most lights were out). The man I think said,”pedikaan onnum illa!” (Nothing to worry). Surprising since we already had a telephone by then.
Telegrams were a source of amusement too, and kind of got lost in transit or were delivered long after its purpose. So often we had a relative arriving at the same time a bearer came announcing his arrival by telegram. It was a cause of much mirth.
But finally in the age of instant communication the telegram had to die. But looking back it served its purpose and well. Though physical distances were bigger, hearts were closer. We may have not have known what was happening with each other every second of the day, but our lives were definitely richer and fuller, in a different way.