NEW DELHI – Thousands of Indians crammed into telegram offices on Sunday to send souvenir messages to friends and family in a last-minute rush before the service shuts down after 162 years.
Sunday was the last day that messages were accepted by the service, the world’s last major commercial telegram operation, and the Central Telegraph Office in New Delhi said it was geared up to tackle the expected rush. “We have increased the number of staff in the expectation that the number of people will grow at our counters,” Senior General Manager Shameem Akhtar said.
Leave for all staff was canceled in a bid to handle the volume of messages, which cost a minimum of 29 rupees (50 cents) and are hand-delivered by delivery workers on bicycles.
On Sunday, morning joggers, housewives and students were among those sending messages to loved ones.
“I have never seen such a rush before. They are some people who are sending 20 telegrams in one go,” said Ranjana Das who is in charge of transmitting the telegrams.
“The service would not have been killed had there been this kind of rush through the year,” worker Vinod Rai said.
The service, known popularly as the “Taar” or wire, will close on Monday because of mounting financial losses.
In the days before mobile phones and the Internet, the telegram network was the main form of long-distance communication, with 20 million messages dispatched from India during the subcontinent’s bloody partition in 1947.
At its peak in 1985, the state-run utility sent 600,000 telegrams a day across India but the figure has dwindled to 5,000 now, Akhtar said.