keith flory
NOSTALGIA, which had no cause to be transmitted in code ~ Morse or otherwise ~ ran strong through the dwindling Anglo-Indian community when newspapers reported the impending demise of Indian telegraphs. For, along with the railway lines, the telegraph ones served as the lifeline of the community in its heyday. Both sets of lines went forth to take modernisation across the subcontinent and the Anglo-Indians’ sense of adventure, and the fact of the community being essentially urban hence not rooted in any particular soil, prompted it to be in the forefront of that “reaching out”. Not surprising, there were jobs reserved for A-Is in the telegraphs, and being English-language speaking facilitated their acquiring a certain professional mastery.
In many ways, there was a pioneering spirit among the railway and telegraph folk. As both sets of lines snaked their way across the land, it was a virtual “opening up”. Camps were set up in jungles, deserts and hillsides and though the comforts were minimal, the guys stuck to the task. The gals followed once rudimentary townships were in place.
In typical A-I fashion a culture took root, the “telegraphs shows” soon rivalled what the railwaymen put on at their “insters” ~ as the “institutes” or clubs were popularly known. At times, that rivalry got “physical”: particularly if at a dance a telegraphs lad made advances on a railway lass ~ or vice versa. There were “telegraph colonies” like the railway ones, Atul Grove Road behind the Eastern Court P&T offices in the Capital being one of them.
There is a bit of history to telegraph valour. It was an A-I telegraphist who tapped out the last message from Delhi in 1857 when “the mutineers” reached the city from Meerut ~ it led to the disarming of the troops in the Punjab which stemmed the progress of the “revolt”. A small memorial to Brendish stands forlorn near the Delhi GPO in Kashmere Gate.
During World War I and II, personnel from the telegraphs were drafted into the Army&’s Corps of Signals. Harold Walker, who retired as a telegraph superintendent in Jhansi, would often recall his stint with 4 Corps Signals, and how he and his men trekked their way through the jungles back to India after the Japanese raced through Burma, to be halted only at Kohima and Imphal.
The railways and the telegraphs lost much of their A-I flavour after jobs were de-reserved ~ a major cause for the seeking of fresh pastures in the UK, Australia and Canada. All that, and probably an awful lot more, raced through A-I hearts and minds when they read the newspapers on 13 June; in some ways, it was an “unlucky 13”, at least for the sentimental.
But the memories also brought back some smiles. And a chuckle too, like this “A-I Special”. A chap went out hunting for “feather”; when he attracted a tiger, he ran for his life but the tiger was getting closer and closer. Then he saw the telegraph poles ahead and took heart ~ after all, he was heading “home”. When he came to the railway track, he knew he had the big cat “licked”. For even though he was “spent”, he collapsed on the “points-lever” ~ and sent the tiger bounding down the siding. No true A-I would require “explanation” of that one!