I went back to the documented communication methods that I was aware of, like use of animals and birds to dispatch letters before the Telegrams came into being.
The use of homing pigeons to carry messages is as old as the ancient Persians from whom the art of training the birds probably came. Before the telegraph this method of communication had a considerable impact. The Dutch government established a system in Java and Sumatra early in the last century, the birds being obtained from Baghdad. Details of the employment of pigeons during the siege of Paris in 1870–71 France led to a revival in the training of pigeons for military purposes. Pigeons have also been used by news agencies, such as Reuters. By the 12th century, messenger pigeons were used in Baghdad.
In Australia camels were used to transport mail and supplies until around 1929 when the railroad superseded it. The journey of around 520 kilometers took Afghan cameleers around four weeks. The service was celebrated by descendants of the cameleers.
Dogs were used to deliver mail pulling a dogsled. Dogsled mail saw limited use in Alaska and Canada during the Klondike gold rush (1896–1903) in the early years of Alaska settlement, there was no regular mail service to the interior post offices during the winter months. Regular service seems to have begun around the 1910s.
Horses were a primary method of delivering mail and messages for many years in different countries around the world. Riders on horseback could take small bundles quickly. The Hanseatic League had a regular mounted service as early as the year 1274 between the principal towns of the League as well as the fortified castles which protected the merchants in their commerce.
When did I see telegrams being sent? Way back, during one of those school holiday seasons, we went to Kathiroor, a remote village close to Tellicherry, where my uncle worked as a Post Master. It was during the second half of the day when there was silence that I heard the sound from the small telegraph machine and wondered what it was? Morse code a method used for transmitting text information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can only be directly understood by a trained, skilled listener. The code uses basic Latin alphabet, some extra Latin letters, Arabic numerals and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals as standardized sequences of short and long signals called “dots” and “dashes”, or “dits” and “dahs”.
The way communication happens today with cell phones is every body’s knowledge. One can’t live without a cell phone! Every day yet another cellphone become obsolete! Obsolescence of ideas is an interesting theme to debate.
I recollect what my father-in-law told me once – he was in Mumbai and his fiancée was in Nettur close to the sea side in Northern Malabar. One find Sunday he completed writing a love letter to her and went across the Worli sea face in the then Bombay and threw the bottle in which he inserted his precious feelings with a wish to reach the bottle to his fiancée. He said that she must have received that letter, as a joke but the idea is more interesting and the love that made him do that! When I was engaged we used to write letters that passed through Mangalore – Madras mail from Q-land (Koilandy) to my office and as we did not want to miss two letters in a week, every Monday and Wednesday a letter was posted. To get across the telephone lines on a PP (particular person) call, I had to book and wait for hours and at times the PP call had to be cancelled as it extended beyond the sleeping times.
We have moved on since then and are able to use technology that helps us communicate much faster like Skype and other modes help us to be in touch with siblings and friends the world over.
When my grandson was with us this summer school vacation I took him to the nearby post office and showed him how a letter written by him will reach his home town, Bangaluru when he reaches there. He was fascinated to see the affixing of the stamp that he bought, posted it in the letter box that had time of clearance as 9.00 a.m. and he asked his mom when in Bangaluru about the letter he posted in Calicut.
That was when I was able to make him appreciate changes that took place in the communication system from pigeons to cell phones. Telegram was something I missed to educate him.
Speed of change is something that we need to recognize and be aware of. Some thing was there at all times to suit the imagination and need. Old may not be gold; but ingenuity had prevailed since time immemorial to use IDEA generation and application of human mind. How would then have had pigeons been identified as a vehicle of communication?
When we move on we need to have a depth and breadth of understanding so that we can contribute to, independence of thought and in turn they contribute to a love of learning. Possession of a historical perspective may be essential to a broad and deep understanding of any subject.
It’s not about telegrams becoming obsolete or what happens next – it’s about our eagerness to give an interpretation of the way we move forward and look at life and the processes we need to adapt to be in touch with the world at large.