India’s telegram service has been withering for decades, to the extent that yesterday the last private messages were sent more than 160 years after the first. Yet for 24 hours it was like the good old days as hundreds of people visited the country’s 75 offices to send their final missives to friends and family, and staff holidays were cancelled to meet the demand.
Some sent messages urging the Telecoms Minister Kapil Sibal to reconsider, yet $250m (£165m) losses in the last seven years meant the game was up. “The losses were mounting. It was not viable to have kept it going much longer,” said Shameem Akhtar, the service’s general manager.
The service began in 1850 with the sending of a message from Kolkata to Diamond Harbour 25 miles to the south. Offices proliferated, wiring the Subcontinent with a network that became known for its speed and dependability. Yet telegrams eventually fell victim to technological advance. “It’s no longer about a birth in the family, or a death,” said Lata Harit, an employee at Delhi’s Kashmere Gate office. “For that, people rely on their [mobile] phones.”
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