Saturday, July 20, 2013

Telegrams - Death Knell

The death knell (wonder what it sounds like) rang on the telegram itself, famous for ringing the death knell for many. In the good old days a euphemism for a sudden and unfortunate death was the telegram that said 'Start Immediately. XXX Unwell'. The smarter ones said their last prayers and set on a journey that sometimes lasted a couple of weeks. The naive ones really thought that someone was unwell and got a big shock, causing a few additional deaths in the aftermath and the sending of a few more telegrams. The telegrams therefore were a big way to find out the smart ones from the naive - and to eliminate the naive ones.

Why all this unwell business one would ask. Why not say it like it is, or was. Because, there was a way to do these things then. We did not put an RIP on facebook and move on with life. We really cared about the 'unwell' person even if he was now beyond unwell, and we also cared about the recipients of the telegram who might react strongly. More importantly the telegram, like a trunk call, was expensive business, and ate into our meagre resources. Hence telegrams were so short and abbreviated that the recipients had a tough time understanding what they said what with all the innuendos, the abbreviations, the 'stop's. Most people looked more puzzled than shocked when they received the telegram, only responding to the call for action - start immediately. (Similarly trunk calls warranted loud shouting because people thought that it would make them more clear and thus save some money on the phone. Instead it turned into two people shouting their heads off on an unclear line.)

Anyway, back to the hero of the story, the telegram. No paper so thin, ever had so much effect with such few words. There were somethings called phonograms, the first cousins of telegrams, which had numbers for special occasions - call those guys at the telephone exchange, give them the address and the number of the appropriate phonogram and your best wishes or appropriate wishes were conveyed without fail. I remember sending a few such for my technologically advanced mother who had figured these things faster than my father, who despite his lovely flowing prose, never wrote many letters on such occasions.

What use the telegram now in the age of the mobile phone and skype and facebook and plastic money - where people are flying off before we can say 'Start Immediately; and not bothering about the nazakath of the whole thing. It has retired peacefully and all we can say is 'Telegram unwell. Start immediately'. Those who can understand will get the picture. Akalmand to ishaara kaafi hai! Good bye old friend, bringer of news good and bad, adder of drama in our drab lives, consumer of our little monies and confuser beyond par. May you RIP.


Rajendra said...

In the pre-internet era, it WAS a very important link between people. Rural areas were also well-covered by it.

Harimohan said...

I agree Raja. So it is as with all things postal. Apart from building the best distribution system in the world possibly, connecting every household surely, I truly admire the postal service and the humble postman who still comes on an outdated, environment friendly bicycle, carrying all that important mail through this crazy traffic. Nothing goes amiss, I find that smile is still there and you do wonder how professional can professional get. They are true heroes. Five star stuff.