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Travel - The Last Telegram

Telegram senders crowd inside the Central Telegraph Office in Kolkata a day before the Indian authorities closed the country's telegram service, once a fundamental part of the country's communication system.

The last telegram

15 July 2013

In an era before mobile phones, when even the ubiquitous rotary-dial

telephone had not quite became a household fixture, the wireless

telegraph was the fastest way to deliver messages. Letters sent by

overland mail took days to reach, as they still do, while aerogrammes

sent from overseas took weeks, often arriving after the sender. The

arrival of the taar-wallah, the telegram delivery man, was greeted with

tense expectation. Invariably, save the odd good tidings of an

examination passed or a betrothal arranged, it was always bad news that

he brought. Messages such as 'Father critical' and 'Mother expired' were

de rigueur, their spare, unsentimental phrasing conveying cold, urgent


The British East India Company established the telegraph

service in Calcutta in the early 1850s, laying kilometres of telegraph

lines across the country. In 1902, telegraph went wireless. Until

recently the wireless telegraph was the only channel of communication to

reach remote, interior villages in India. The growth of Subscriber

Trunk Dialling (STD) first, email over the Internet and later cellular

penetration dealt body blows to the telegraph service from which it

never recovered.

On July 15 Indian authorities closed the

country's telegram service, once a fundamental part of the country's

communication system. Telegraph was used for everything from taking care

of official business to reporting deaths and marriages. With the

booming use of mobile phones and the Internet, the historic service that

began over 160 years ago has now been in decline for years, and

government-owned telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has

decided to discontinue it.

Reuters photographers Mansi Thapliyal and Danish Siddiqui documented the final days of India's telegram service.

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