The taar that bound lives
We usually mourn the death of a public figure on three counts: when such presence has impacted our lives in a profound way at some point or the other; when our culture, literature and films are deeply influenced by such a presence; or when an elder whose time has come passes away after an eventful and fruitful life.
Recently, such a death was announced in the media, but with minimal fanfare and without the usual obituaries by people of all statures. I speak of the announcement of the Indian Postal and Telegraph Department stating that the Telegram service would be closed down after more than 160 years. Having seen the heyday of the telegram, I would like to share a few thoughts on this sad but inevitable event.
The telegram was part of the Postal department that the British established during its rule in India. The network penetrated remote corners of the country and like the Indian Railway, bound the country together into a nation. The main purpose was militaristic ~ important telegraphic messages would be dispatched from the front to the army headquarters and vice-versa. The British Commander conquering Sind, Sir Charles Napier, conveyed the news through a telegram that read “Peccavi”, which in Latin meant “I have sinned”; he used the pun on the last word to announce his success.
Soon after introduction of the telegram, ordinary folks started sending and receiving important personal messages via this mode. News of illness, death, leave, recruitment and such serious matters was sent through express telegrams; the pink pieces of paper caused excitement, tension and dread in every household. The postman, who was the last link in this chain of communication, knew the import of the pink express and would deliver it promptly ~ more often than not, he would read it out for the recipient and thus participate in the joy or grief of that household.
Naturally, our poets, writers and filmmakers were quick to seize on the dramatic potential of the telegram and weave it into their creations. How many times in films has a wily mother managed to bring her recalcitrant son to the wedding mandap with the telegram “Mother ill come sharp”! How many lives have been shattered by the sudden news of death borne by the telegram! The acting potential of our yesteryear film stars was tested when they had to open the telegram with graphic emotions written large on their face or fainting dramatically on reading it. In the 100 years of cinema that we are now celebrating, the telegram could be a leitmotif for quite a long span.
The colloquial name for the telegram was taar or wire, signifying the wonder of words being conveyed through the wire, a technological marvel that caught the imagination of the world. From the wire to wireless to the satellite to the Internet, news now flows relentlessly through the World Wide Web.
The telegram played its role well in kick-starting the communication revolution.
The end of the telegram is not an occasion for mourning; it is an opportunity to celebrate a metamorphosis in the ways of communication. We from the older generation will never forget the taar that bound hearts together in sickness and in health, in life and in death.