The Telegram.

An important decision has been taken by the Indian Posts & Telegraphs Department. Telegrams will no longer be sent / received as there is just not enough traffic in these days of mobile telephony and the internet.

That is a still from a Hindi film where the Postman delivering a telegram reads the contents to an illiterate lady. They would read letters and write replies to be taken back to the post office for onward despatch. This one service alone earned the postmen in India a high status in rural India. They would do the same in the cities too where necessary. I have blogged earlier about the great relationship that I have with the two postmen who deliver letters and other posted items to me and they are always welcome in my home. Sadly, at least as far the telegram is concerned, they will no longer be necessary. Now they are more important for the money orders that they deliver which too will pass once the plans to make available mini banks in rural India come to fruition.

As a Sales Manager, I once received the following telegram from one of our Travelers. “Gave birth to old lady and missed train. Will come to office day after tomorrow.” You can imagine the mirth that created.

That same Traveler, was sent to find and book a hall to hold an exhibition for us in a town in Gujarat. He sent this. “Found Vyapari Mandal ready to give hole to us. Vyapari Mandal is Merchant’s Chamber and “hole” is how Gujartis pronounce hall.

This Traveler was a resident of Bombay and would go on tours to upcountry markets and would return to Bombay to settle accounts, replenish stock of stationery etc, and take rest before proceeding on the next tour. He was an ace salesman but a timid fellow. We had to organise a conference of Travelers at short notice once, and the only way we could contact him was to send him a telegram. We came to know later that the telegram was not delivered to him because he would not open the door to the Postman. He simply could not believe that anyone would send him a telegram when he was at home. We had to send a person to his home to get him the next morning.

I had a particularly finicky boss who would keep my telegrams till I returned to base and would show me edited telegrams to impress on me as to how I could have saved a few rupees by using lesser number of words to convey the same message. I soon learnt how to be good at sending telegrams.

In India, we had a parallel system called the Phonogram. Those days, the Posts and Telephones were under one department and this worked quite well. One could call up the Telephones and they would call you back to ensure that the number was genuine before accepting the phonogram the cost of which would be added on the telephone bill at the end of each month. Since the clerks taking down dictated phonograms were not exactly masters of the English language, we often had hilarious spelling mistakes in the telegrams received. Phonograms used to be first read out to the recipient if he had a telephone and often what was read out did not make any sense. One had to wait for the confirmation copy to come to understand. Just four years ago, my father wanted to send a phonogram to one of his friends and was devastated to find that the phonogram does not exist any more.