Technology has delivered its next fatal blow and the victim is none other than India’s 162-year telegram service, which will be laid to rest on July 14, 2013.
I remember how during my school days, the very mention of the word “telegram” used to bring shivers among the recipients.
Mostly, the messages were negative and highlighted the death of an elderly person in the family in a far-away village or city. Of course, there were the occasional positive messages, where near and dear ones who could not make it to a function, like marriage, used to send greetings through telegrams. It is another matter that the telegrams invariably reached after the function. Whatever the content, telegrams were the fastest mode of communication, as there was no concept of mobile phones.
India’s first telegraph lines were laid by the East India Company in 1851 in Calcutta, stretching 40 kilometres down the Hoogly River. Work proceeded on amazing speed and four years later, 6,400km of cables had been laid. In 1985, 60 million telegrams were being sent and received a year in India from 45,000 offices. Now, only 75 offices exist. For an industry that once employed 12,500 people, now there are hardly a thousand.
As a journalist, I have seen technology devouring several traditional jobs and systems. The trunk calls, telex, teleprinters were among the earlier ones to go. Thousands of proof readers lost their jobs when spell-checking computers made them redundant.
I remember a lawyer-friend who used to show off his huge collection of Encyclopaedia books. When I met him recently he said his grandson had compressed the huge books in tiny CDs.
The hefty phone directories are not a necessity anymore. Mobiles double up for cameras and remind me of the days I used to run around looking for expensive camera colour film rolls.
Technology will continue its killing spree. Change is the only constant, as Heraclitus put it.
But there is one aspect that makes me wonder: The personal touch of a handwritten love letter. I do not know whether youngsters get the same feeling receiving an “ILU” message via email.