There weren’t many telephones back then in our muhalla, when I used to be a child. There wasn’t any at our place. My eldest uncle had called once from the place where he used to live for work those days. He had to call at his friend, our neighbour Mr. Jain’s place, twice. When telephone was not as close as the next door or front house, it was the standard procedure. You called to inform that you’d call at certain time and then you made the call for which someone would be waiting eagerly at the place and time decided upon. People had patience then. They’d wait for hours. People had patience, as they’d let others occupy space and receive hospitality for unlimited time, in their house for using their phone.
In the fortunate event of the telephone set’s being in close neighbourhood, somebody from the house with the telephone would call someone from the house for whose member/s the call was made and that would bring in a whole set of persons desirous of talking with the caller. Those were the days of government monopolization of the department: a time when our muhalla had only one colour television, at Rakesh Bahaiya’s house. In the age of ultimate patience, people used either to be so good or act so good as their behaviour encouraged numerous future calls.
Even more common and important than telephone used to be post cards, inland letters, letters and telegrams, in their increasing order of price. Post cards that cost only twenty-five paise were my favourite. I used to write them to my friends, filling up all the available space. Inland letters used to be costlier, nearly thrice the price of a post card, and had nearly thrice the space to, to be filled everywhere.
There was a definite limit to an obviously cost linked volume of the text of a telegram and its syntax was formed keeping only one rule in mind: prune mercilessly all but the fruits and flowers. I had received money orders and telegrams for my grandparents. I had sent a very few telegrams in my time too (no money orders) a long time ago.
With the rise of the popularity and prevalence of the mobile phones and the internet, the importance of other (read older) modes of communication waned. When they announced that the Government of India was going to discontinue the telegraph service in July, I had a wish in my mind: to send my last telegram. I searched for telegraph offices in my neighbourhood and found none. I had gone to visit my brother and repeated my search in his neighbourhood with the same results.
I went inside a post office near my brother’s place to ask about the place from where I could send my last telegram and they gave me a place at least five kilometres away. I returned to my place and went to the post office to ask about the telegraph department. They informed me that theirs was a totally separate department and then gave me a large locality to search my needle of a telegraph office in. I hadn’t time enough to travel ten extra kilometres for what my heart wanted. In sum, I failed to send my last telegram.
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