Creation and Criticism

 ISSN: 2455-9687 

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

July-Oct 2019

Essay


Remembering Dots and Dashes


Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’


Thousands of people crowded telegraph offices around India to send the country’s last telegrams, as the government shut down the 163-year old service on Sunday, July 14, 2013. The age of mobile phones and e-mail, technology eventually helped make the telegram obsolete. It was Gandhi’s email and the British Raj’s messenger between the subcontinent and England. At its peak, 60 million telegraphic messages per year were generated in India. Developed in the 1830s by Samuel Morse the telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication. It worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations. In addition to helping invent the telegraph, Samuel Morse developed a code (bearing his name) that assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet and allowed for the simple transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines. In 1844, Morse sent his first telegraph message, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland; by 1866, a telegraph line had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. to Europe.  I have sweet and sour memories of telegraphic messages known as telegrams. Most of the time, telegrams used to cause anxiety among the recipients. Usually, a postman carrying a telegram used to be a messenger of death. I have personally eye witnessed at least 20 such incidents in India. Indians used to send money through telegrams. This service was the most reliable means of sending money anywhere on the subcontinent.

 

During my trip to India in 1982, a friend of mine wanted to send a sizeable amount of money to his sister in a remote corner of India. On reaching my village, I went to the local post office. The post office building was a little hut of mud. A desolate looking man (a postal clerk who doubled as a postman), took money from me. He then made some dots and dashes on a rusty instrument which looked like a one-hole paper puncher and handed me my receipt. On returning to the States, my friend thanked me as his sister had received the money the next morning. I remember, if someone had to be picked up at the railway station, the telegram used to reach our home on the same day. There were no emoticons or net lingo then, but we used to truncate words and sentences to save money. During an epidemic or riots the anxious loved ones would send message, “Send Welfare.” The answer would be “OK.” It was very common for bosses to receive telegrams from vacationing employees declaring, “Mother serious” meaning he’d like to extend his vacation. India was the last country in the world to use the telegram on such a large scale. It was the major part of a communication mode that carried messages during India’s fight for independence and was a vital part of Indians’ day-to-day life. I, for one, will sorely and surely miss it.

                                                   


 

About the Author:

 

Born on Dec 03, 1946, Anil Shrivastava (pen name Musafir) is a retired engineer with great accomplishments but writing is his first love. He is a founder member, partner and managing editor of TheThinkClub. He is a great proponent of independent thinking among fellow human beings, which also means being non-partisan and unbiased. He resides in Rochester, Michigan, USA and can also be contacted through email- letters@thethinkclub.com.