It may be somewhat of a cliché to suggest that the end of the telegram service in India is also the conclusion of an historic epoch, yet, it, nevertheless, is true. The telegraph and the telegram have played a not inconsequential role in India’s history and their contribution must not go unacknowledged now that it has ended for us. A scientific miracle of its day, the telegram had a humble beginning in India, with the first message flashing out in November 1850, between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour, the 50 kilometre distance covered in an instant, superseding all traditional means of communications. It will twinkle for the last time on 15 July, 2013, with the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) having decided that newer technologies made the telegram redundant, thus being superseded itself. When the first telegraphic message flashed on the subcontinent, though it covered a short distance, it signaled a huge leap in communications technology that thrust India into the modernity of a communications revolution that has not yet ended. The British were quick to see the potential of the telegraph, and wired up India rapidly, using it to reinforce their control of the country. It underlined their superiority in military matters as was almost immediately evident in their massive response to the 1857 War of Independence, with the telegraph of the day being used to good effect.
The telegraph was, despite colonial uses, an important break from the past for India, linking it for the first time with distant lands, breaking the barriers of time and distance that had kept it in relative isolation in history. It is not difficult to see the telegraph as an early version of the Internet, though based on different technology, for it linked up the world in new ways just as the Internet does, with the telegram as an early form of instant messaging, with momentous consequences. The telegram was used with telling effect during the national movement despite the Gandhian disdain for modern technology. After Independence it served as a public service communication tool that empowered millions for it could go where no telephone call could and even into the remotest villages, cheaply and fast. The humble telegram has an emotional connect with Indians and will remain deeply etched in the collective memory of the country even as it embraces newer technologies that too will be passé.