India’s telegram services ended on 14 July with a great rush of people flocking to telegraph offices across the country to send that one last message to their loved ones—and even to themselves.

It’s been nearly a week since the service bid adieu, but the employees are still busy.

An international code book for telegrams.
An international code book for telegrams.

“Of the four telegrams I sent on 13 July, a friend in Thane received hers the fastest. She got it the next morning at 11am even though the BSNL staffers at Prabhadevi had told me it would only reach her on Monday," says Vrushali Karnik, a student at Government Law College, Mumbai. “I sent another one to my own address as no one from my family had ever sent or received a telegram—ours arrived late afternoon on Tuesday. The delivery man said our telegram was the 45th delivery he was making that day."

Others, like Delhi-based Madhu Aggrawal, an employee with National Thermal Power Corp. Ltd, have not been so lucky. Aggrawal sent one telegram on 12 July from the Central Telegraph Office (CTO), Eastern Court, Janpath, New Delhi. It is yet to reach its destination in Indirapuram, in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. “We wanted to keep this telegram for an address proof and it has not come," says Aggrawal, who was at what used to be the telegraph section at Eastern Court on 19 July. She insisted that Kiran Pal, sub-divisional engineer, operations, look through the pile of telegrams that were still being sorted on a table and find hers.

Unlike Aggrawal, Kolkata hotelier Kunjan Ghosh, who was among the last people to send out two telegrams on 14 July from the West Bengal capital, is calm and believes his telegram will reach his children early next week. He sent this telegram to his three-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter: “This is the first and last telegram from your papa, with lots of love."

Karnik, who sent her telegrams from the BSNL office in Prabhadevi around 2pm on 13 July, was told that officially she was the last person to book a telegram from this branch. “The staff took photographs while I filled forms and explained that they had been asked to do so," she says.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, almost a week after the service ended, Pal is busy trying to pacify Aggrawal and fielding queries via his colleague from a girl called Charu who has called to enquire about four telegrams she had booked on 14 July. Pal promises Aggrawal he will look into the matter and if need be, courier the telegram to her address.

In the midst of this hullabaloo, there is some good news for Pal. He is told Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s 10 telegrams have been delivered, and since these were certified telegrams (a photocopy of the telegram is stamped and can be collected by the sender after it has been dispatched), another postal employee is all set to photocopy them.

Things are calmer in Mumbai. At the CTO, Fort, 9,142 telegrams were booked on 14 July and Sanjay Patil, senior section supervising officer, says all the local ones have been dispatched and delivered. “Outstation ones take a little longer, it’s hard to say when they will be delivered," he says. “We’ve sent telegrams to Delhi, Ahmedabad, etc., and a few may be returned to us because of incomplete or incorrect addresses, but other than that, we’ve cleared all the telegrams."

In contrast, the CTO, Janpath, New Delhi, received just one-fourth of the telegrams that the Fort CTO received. Yet it seems to be struggling to deliver them. Pal says there could still be a backlog. “Telegrams within the 8km radius of our office are delivered by our own messenger but for larger distances we have to post them," he says.

Jayanta Chakraborty, sub-divisional engineer, computer-cum-nodal officer, Web-based telegraph system, CTO, Red Cross Place, BBD Bagh (erstwhile Dalhousie Square), Kolkata, started work at 10.40am on 14 July and finished post midnight. He was surprised to discover at the end of the day that he had dispatched 376 telegrams. “I never imagined I would send so many telegrams," he says.

The CTO, Raj Bhavan Road, Bangalore, received 1,228 telegrams for dispatch on 14 July and Anil Kumar R.J., senior section supervisor, says: “We sorted these on the basis of urgency and over the next two days, sent them all out. We cleared the backlog by 16 July."

Despite having cleared the outgoing telegrams, the Bangalore centre continues to receive telegrams to be delivered from across the country—on 16 July, it dispatched 540, and 103 were sent 18 July. They are still waiting to find out how many more will arrive this weekend.

Seema Chowdhry, Prerna Makhija, Pavitra Jayaraman and Indranil Bhoumik contributed to this story.