Media has recently carried obituaries of a 150-year old institution. I am also tempted to make my own contribution to mourning the demise which technically will happen on the 14th of this month. I am talking of the telegram. There was a time when we could not do without it. But gradually, mobile phones and e-mails took over and the poor telegram quietly took a back seat, forgotten by us as if it never existed.
The expected telegrams did not inspire much awe, but the unexpected were seen with trepidation. During marriages, telegrams arrived in droves. The messages used to be very flowery like, 'May the heaven's choicest blessings be showered on the newly married couple'. Today, one cannot think of such messages. The word 'choicest', if used at all now, is always in association with 'abuses'. Marriage telegrams were very economical, because there were one word codes which had to be paid for and each code represented a long appropriate message. I remember, number eight was one of the most used codes during the marriages.
Those who travelled to another place normally sent home a two-letter telegram - 'Reached Safely'. I always thought 'safely' was superfluous, but it was harmless, because it used to be covered under the minimum charges that the sender had to pay for. To relatives back home, an additional word in the telegram at no additional cost was always welcome .
Another common message that used to be telegraphically delivered was 'Father serious. Come soon'. Again, I found 'come soon' quite superfluous, but there was no harm spending a little extra money to ensure that the son could not subsequently cite ambiguity as an excuse for not visiting his ailing father. Mostly, the telegrams were about 'father serious'. If the mother were serious, perhaps, the news was considered fit enough to be conveyed through a letter and not a telegram.
The telegram taught brevity. There was an in-built monetary incentive in it for brevity. Mostly, it drove home urgency.
Today, SMSs and e-mails have replaced telegrams. But so many of them are received that they cause no excitement and convey no urgency. Important messages can easily get lost in the flood of messages. It was never the case with the telegram. It was too important to be ignored.