Tuesday, July 16, 2013


"Did you know that the last telegram was sent in India yesterday?" asked my father when I called up my parents.  That gave us something more to talk about.

The earliest memory I have of using the telegram is from way back when I was a kid.  I might have been just about seven or so years old.  It was the rainy northeast monsoon time.  Perhaps November.  One after another, we all fell sick.  A flu bug, of the worst variety.  Raging fever and loss of appetite.  And, for some, the body rejecting food every possible way.  Was the worst of times.

Mother was the last one to get the bug.  When she did, she was hit hard, perhaps because her energy was already spent on taking care of the three kids and the husband.  One moment she was sitting and the next she fainted.

Father managed to get across a telegram to my grandmother.  It was an SOS of sorts.

Almost two days later, my great-aunt and her uncle--Puliyarai chithappa, as we called him--reached our place, in the middle of some pouring rain.  That awesome woman took wonderful care of us, nourished us back to health, spent a few additional days with us, before returning to Sengottai.

Turns out I don't have photos of the post office at Sengottai,
which is a perhaps a couple of hundred feet beyond the building at the right edge of this photo

The post and telegraph office, as it was called, at Sengottai was literally behind grandmother's home.  In fact, the property belonged to her mother-in-law and the government bought a piece of it to construct the building.  The proximity of the telegraph office created some interesting moments when listening to the old valve-radio at grandmother's home.

"Do you remember  Puliyarai chithappa  deciphering the Morse Code from the telegraph office that interfered with the radio stations?" I asked my father as we chatted.

The road from Sengottai to Puliyarai

Father was surprised I remembered that.  I wonder why he is surprised every time I recall any of those old stories.  When I toss out details on the years, he is even more impressed.  Like when I asked him today, "if grandmother were alive, wouldn't it be her hundredth birthday this year?"

"I was thinking about the same thing yesterday.  I am surprised you remember that" he said.

Anyway, father commented that Puliyarai Chithappa worked as a station master in the railways, and station masters needed to know Morse Code.  Now, that was a piece of information that was new to me.

I did not remind my father about my memory of the last time we used telegrams.  When grandmother--his mother--died.  In August 1980.


Shachi said...

Knew about the morse code tidbit - my grandpa used to be a station master too.

Ramesh said...

The telegram was long overdue to be confined into the pages of history. That India is still governed by Indian Telegraph Act 1985, which incidentally covers mobile phones, speaks volumes of the fact that we are still in the 19th century. As you ended the post, a telegram usually was the harbinger of bad news - so no nostalgic memories of that one.

Incidentally, its another classic symptom in India - on the last day of the telegram service, the wise bhadralok of the great city of Calcutta went on strike protesting against the stoppage - another example of which century that venerable city is in.

Sriram Khé said...

OMG, they protested the ending of telegraph services? what a freaking disaster that place is, in contrast to the "what bengal thinks today, india thinks tomorrow" status of its old glorious past!!!

yes, there is no nostalgia here on th eend of telegrams. but, there are lots of old stories to tell ...

Sriram Khé said...

a station master for a grandfather, eh ... i bet he had some stories to share ...

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