Indians remember telegram heyday as service stops

NEW DELHI, July 11, 2013 (AFP) – Sixty-six years ago, Santosh Sharma saw her mother sell gold bangles to feed and clothe her family of six and then dispatch telegrams to her brothers urging them to leave newly-created Pakistan and gather in New Delhi. “Eventually the telegraph system had to face defeat.”

“Come, we will all live in India,” wrote Sharma’s mother, Devika.

As the only literate woman in the family, Devika was entrusted with the task of sending the messages to distant family members and fellow Hindu friends.

The family finally reunited in the Indian capital after countless exchanges, escaping the religious violence which claimed up to a million lives following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

“Crossing the border meant risking your own life,” Santosh Sharma told AFP, remembering the tense period of post-partition India.

“At that time the telegram was the only way to keep families informed, give speedy updates and reunite.”

After 162 years of connecting people, India is now set to disband the world’s last major telegram service and its legions of cycle-borne delivery workers.

With the service made redundant by a technological revolution, the final message will be sent next Monday, July 15.