NPR Story
7:35 am
Sun July 14, 2013

India To Deliver Its Last Telegram

Originally published on Sun July 14, 2013 12:12 pm

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's the sound of telegrams being processed at the Telegraph office in Kolkata, India. The service has been running in India for 163 years, but today it will deliver India's last telegram. Here in the U.S., where the telegram was invented, Western Union abandoned its telegram service in 2006. If that seems surprisingly recent, then consider India, where cell phones are as ubiquitous as they are in the U.S., and telegrams are as irrelevant as they would be to you or me.

This group of young Indians, standing outside a mall in Kolkata, don't even know what a telegram is.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I don't think anyone below 30 knows what a telegram is. I don't think anyone's seen one.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm not really sure.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All that I've seen is in old movies. I've never seen it happen actually.

MARTIN: This week, many Indians lined up to send a telegram for the first and the last time. Seema Bhatia was at the Kolkata office sending one to her Grandmother.

SEEMA BHATIA: I've just written: The old order changeth yielding place for the new. Love you lots, Mohanan Seema. She's 99, she's crossing over a generation really.

MARTIN: And while the old order may be yielding to the new, Seema Bhatia points out that not everyone in India has access to the online world.

BHATIA: I think it still has a place in society because not everyone has access to email, SMS, and we forget that we're a country of over a billion people and the middle class are still, you know, maybe 500, 600 million depending on what product your selling to them. So the rural masses, I think the telegram is still something they would look out for. Also, the there's a romance to the telegram. You don't take that away.

MARTIN: But in spite of the romance - STOP - the telegram is just going to go the way of the British Raj - STOP.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELEGRAM SAM")

T. REX: (Singing) Telegram Sam, Telegram Sam, you...

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELEGRAM SAM")

REX: (Singing) Golden Nose Slim Golden Nose Slim... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.