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The last telegram

Travel - The Last Telegram

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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.