14 August 2010

Dispatching Despatches

Last week, The Telegraph started a Bihar edition from Patna. I started reading The Telegraph from its inaugural issue some twenty years ago, when it stood up to challenge the staid Statesman, which was every Calcuttan’s breakfast read at the time. It is wonderful to see the familiar Broadsheet at my doorstep every morning, this time from Bihar.

And that triggered memories about my own days as the Gangtok Correspondent of The Telegraph, when I was in the Northeastern India in the mid eighties and early nineties. In those days, there was no internet, and so we newspaper correspondents had to depend on the old wire services provided by the Postal Department. We would write or type our stories out in longhand, and then toodle off to the nearest post and telegraph office to submit them at the counter for telegrams. In those days regular telegrams cost fifty paise a word, so the members of the Press had special ‘P&T’ cards that allowed us to send telegrams to our newspapers on credit. The special ‘newspaper rate’ was four paise per word.

We would have to write our stories in duplicate, and keep a carbon copy. When we arrived at the post office, we would have to submit both the copies at the counter. The despatch ( a very official sounding word, I loved it) would be recorded, and the carbon copy stamped and handed back to you. The chap receiving the telegrams wouldn’t be wearing a smiley face. He’d stare glumly at the paper and say something like , “Seven hundred words! I’ve got to type seven hundred words, and that UNI fellow has handed in a report six hundred words long!” How quickly the telegram would reach Calcutta from Gangtok would depend entirely upon how enthusiastic and skilful the telegraph operator was, and we pressmen had to keep the fellow in good humour if we wanted our despatches to be ‘first off the block’.
In 1989, the fax machine made its appearance, and what a wonder it was. The first time I saw a fax machine was in the office of the UNI Bureau Chief in Shillong. He really showed it off. In fact, he invited all of us 'hick journalists' in Shillong to his place to ogle at it over a couple of swigs of cheap rum!

I dug up a couple of my old ‘Telegram cards’: the yellow one is the one for The Telegraph, and the other one is the telegram card for The Times of India, which I wrote stories for while in Shillong. As I turned them over in my hand, I heard a song play inside my head.. “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d sing and dance forever and a day….”

Author: Frank Krishner


Ajit Chouhan said...

nostalgic :)

Anonymous said...

Of great archival interest. Very informative.

shilpi said...

Wonderful. Allow me to use this piece as a comprehension passage for my 12th standard students. Looks like u have been in the business since ages...however, it never occurred to me that you are that old;-)

Nishant Sharma SHIVA said...

How could i write for prominent newspapers?