The telegram is dying. Achoo! And so am I.

by sidin in , ,


Sniff. Cough. Wheeze. Quite pleased with this longish cover story in last weekend's Lounge. Too long to cut and paste the whole thing here. But here is a little amuse bouche of the story and a link to download the pdf of the two-page spread.

Have a terrible cold. So don't expect anything cheery for a day or two. Or week. Sigh.

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The telegram is dying

After a century and a half of binding the country together, the messenger of the masses is slowly becoming a remnant of the past

Shruti Chakraborty and Sidin Vadukut

On a recent weekday evening in south Mumbai, the Central Telegraph Office (CTO), a stone’s throw from the raucous Flora Fountain traffic circle, is abuzz with noise—not of customers but carpentry work. CTO, one of the district’s many heritage buildings with solid stone facades, humbly stands in the shadow of the considerably taller Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) office behind it. The MTNL office itself is overshadowed by the even taller and more imposing Videsh Sanchar Bhavan tower next door that houses VSNL offices. The three form a pecking order of telecom offices—from the swanky Tata-owned building at one end to the sad, sorry old CTO at the other.

Finding the telegraph counter in CTO means walking through an unmanned metal detector, past a dark, gloomy foyer, which is being converted into what looks like a modern bank with counters and glass partitions between them, and into a narrow corridor on the right.

There is not a single customer in sight. When asked for a telegram form, there is a moment of hesitation before one of the two employees behind the counter gets up and hands a piece of paper through the slot—it is a telegram application form that doesn’t look much younger than the CTO building itself.

“The telegram business has gone down a lot. Before, we used to send 1,000 a day. Nowadays, we get 100, sometimes 200,” explains a portly man behind the counter with a smile on his face. He counts the words on the filled-in form handed to him, checks on a laminated sheet of paper for the charges—Rs26 for overnight delivery of a 22-word telegram to Delhi—and then he hands back a counterfoil.

But when he checks the billing machine at the counter, he looks a little embarrassed. It was a few minutes past 5 in the evening, the end of a working day, and the Mumbai CTO had only sent 37 telegrams the whole day. Visibly upset, he quickly says: “We will send more today. We are open 24 hours for your service you know. Maybe some more people will come.”

In all likelihood, however, they won’t.

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You could read the story online here. But I'd rather you download the PDF here. And no there aren't any jokes in it. So for your daily dose of amusement you may want to revert to the dependable people at Newsmax.