The Last Telegram

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 fact.

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.





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.
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.
An employee sleeps in the record section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee sleeps in the record section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Files are seen stacked up in the record section of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai July 10, 2013.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Files are seen stacked up in the record section of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai July 10, 2013.
A computer screen shows a telegram message inside the central Telegraph office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
A computer screen shows a telegram message inside the central Telegraph office in New Delhi.
An employee hands over change to a telegraph sender at the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee hands over change to a telegraph sender at the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
An employee poses with a Morse code telegraph machine at the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee poses with a Morse code telegraph machine at the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Chelladurai, 52, works in the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Chelladurai, 52, works in the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Vironika, an employee who has served for 33 years, poses for a photograph inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Vironika, an employee who has served for 33 years, poses for a photograph inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
 Files are stacked next to a clock inside a storeroom at the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
 Files are stacked next to a clock inside a storeroom at the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Madhu Bindal, 60, an employee who has served for 34 years, poses for a photograph inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Madhu Bindal, 60, an employee who has served for 34 years, poses for a photograph inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Kamla Devi, 55, an employee who has served for 30 years, cries as she talks about her career, inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Kamla Devi, 55, an employee who has served for 30 years, cries as she talks about her career, inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
S. R. Gaur, 55, works inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
S. R. Gaur, 55, works inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
An employee reads a newspaper inside the delivery section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee reads a newspaper inside the delivery section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
An employee writes down addresses before dispatching telegrams inside the delivery section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee writes down addresses before dispatching telegrams inside the delivery section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
An employee uses glue as he prepares telegrams to be sent at the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee uses glue as he prepares telegrams to be sent at the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
An employee stamps a telegram inside the delivery section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee stamps a telegram inside the delivery section room of the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, leaves the Central Telegraph Office to deliver telegrams in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, leaves the Central Telegraph Office to deliver telegrams in New Delhi.
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, leaves the Central Telegraph Office as he rides a bicycle to deliver telegrams in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, leaves the Central Telegraph Office as he rides a bicycle to deliver telegrams in New Delhi.
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, rides a bicycle as he delivers telegrams in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, rides a bicycle as he delivers telegrams in New Delhi.
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, rides a bicycle as he delivers telegrams in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Messenger Om Dutt, 56, rides a bicycle as he delivers telegrams in New Delhi.
Ranjit Singh, 83, who served as an employee in the Central Telegraph Office for 33 years, speaks on a telephone inside his house in New Delh.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Ranjit Singh, 83, who served as an employee in the Central Telegraph Office for 33 years, speaks on a telephone inside his house in New Delh.
Surjeet Kaur, 77, displays a telegram which was sent to her son by her daughter-in-law in 1978, inside her house in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Surjeet Kaur, 77, displays a telegram which was sent to her son by her daughter-in-law in 1978, inside her house in New Delhi.
Surjeet Kaur, 77, displays a telegram which was sent by her husband on her birthday in 1955, inside her house in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Surjeet Kaur, 77, displays a telegram which was sent by her husband on her birthday in 1955, inside her house in New Delhi.
Bulbul Tiwari, 73, writes a telegram to her grandchildren inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Bulbul Tiwari, 73, writes a telegram to her grandchildren inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Saurabh Gupta, 34, writes a telegram to his son inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
Travel - The Last Telegram
Saurabh Gupta, 34, writes a telegram to his son inside the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi.
An employee sends a telegram appealing to Kapil Sibal, India's Minister of Communication and Information Technology, to reverse the decision to close the telegram services at the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.
Travel - The Last Telegram
An employee sends a telegram appealing to Kapil Sibal, India's Minister of Communication and Information Technology, to reverse the decision to close the telegram services at the Central Telegraph Office in Mumbai.

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