“Telegram is going to become history. India discontinues Telegraph services. The last telegram will be sent on 14th July 2013.”
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As the news anchor announced these lines, my heart skipped a beat. I felt something which people might called nostalgic. May be, yes. But it was something more. The telegrams have always been one of the most important parts of us old people living this new age. My life too had one of such incidents. I recall, telegrams had an interesting way of sending messages. The fullstops were replaced with the word ‘STOP’ and the fee was according to each word written on it. So it was costlier to send a telegram but it would be delivered much faster than a letter. Hence, only important and urgent messages were sent through it. For instance :
“SISTER MARRIAGE STOP COME BEFORE 21 STOP”
“SISTER MARRIAGE STOP COME BEFORE 21 STOP”
I checked my cell phone and it read 14th July, 8:50 AM. I finished the cup of coffee and got out of the cozy couch and went to the bathroom. There was an old man with white stubble, white eyebrows and wrinkly skin staring back at me from the bathroom mirror.
So much time… I thought.
I went down the road of reverie. It was forty years from now and I was ten…
I sat on dad’s shoulder as he carried me to “Meena Bazaar”, one of the famous fairs of that time. “I want to eat the Bambaiya Mithaai (cotton candy)”, I said to him and he smiled and nodded. He never said no to me. I don’t remember him saying ‘no’ to any of my demands. After an hour we returned back home. My mother was waiting for us in the dim light coming from the earthen lamp placed near the door. After dinner I went to bed. My mother told me a story and then I went to sleep. This was her daily chore, to tell me a new story every night before tucking me in.
I was one of those lucky boys of that time to be studying in a school. Most of the parents thought studying in school isn’t worth the money and time. Well fortunately, I studied and so did ‘she’.
I entered the small building where a skinny man with a stick in his hand used to teach us. We sat on floor, write with chalk on our black slate. Instead of fancy, heavy bags we used to carry a simple one made out of old useless rags.
“What did u get in tiffin for lunch?” she asked me, her head bearing two ponytails with red ribbons on each. I blushed. I was shy. I shook my head. I didn’t bring anything. She held my hand and we were out, where an old lady was selling boiled berries with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I wasn’t comfortable with girls. I ate and left in hurry. Her eyes kept looking at my receding figure waiting for me to return.
Time passed and I passed the school with honorable grades and so did she. It was the youth. The time of life when everything looks fresh, energetic and colourful. I sat with her near a pond. She kept throwing stones into it. I kept looking her. I could spend whole day long looking at her. She was beautiful.
I went back home only to get a shocking news. My father has been transferred and so we had to leave the place within 7 days. I ran to the pond where she had been waiting for me. I told her the news and I knew the reply. She didn’t reply with words. Instead, she used the most powerful weapons women generally use: Tears and Silence. I went back home and told my father that I wanted to stay here and complete my studies in the village only. He smiled as if he knew the matter. He patted my shoulder and told me to walk with him. We were walking through a narrow lane which was covered with mango trees on both sides. Several birds, which are rarely seen today, were chirping as if they knew what was going to happen. My father started telling me how his father shifted to this village and how hard he worked. Then he told me something about young age. Then, something about life. I was hardly listening as I could not get her face out of my mind. I knew that my father will never leave me here because he loved me a lot and would never want his son to be away from him. But his answer surprised me.
He said, “You can live here but on one condition. Whenever I will call you, you have to come and meet me. Whenever I will tell you to stay with your mother, you should obey that and leave this village.”“I promise.” I said hugging him tight.
After a week my father and mother bid me goodbye. We all cried. My mother hugged me, kissed me and told me to eat properly and all the stuffs in detail. My father hugged me and whispered just one thing in my ear, “Remember the promise.”
They left in the bullock cart that made tingling sound as the bulls walk away. I remember I cried that whole night.
I stayed with our neighbors who treated me like their son. Meeting her by the pond had become the routine. Days passed by and we passed the college. She had called me to meet at our ‘meeting point’ near the pond. She was standing against a huge banyan tree. She seemed perplexed. There was a telegram in her hand. I asked her “what is it?” gesturing to the small piece of paper.
“It’s letter from the city college. I have been selected for post graduation in a college there.” She said.
I looked at her without saying anything. She understood the look and tore off the telegram into several pieces. I never wanted her to go to another city and study higher. I never wanted her to go to another city and find new friends. In fact, I never wanted any girl to leave and study higher. ‘It’s useless for girls to study’ I thought. She obeyed me without even getting annoyed by my selfish behavior. I left in anger. Her kohl clad eyes kept looking at me waiting for me to return.
Next day, to compensate for my behavior, I wrote a letter. I plucked some roses in hurry and tied them with the letter. Here comes the postman in khakhi uniform in a bicycle. I gave him the letter to deliver it to her. He took the letter. I was about to turn when he held my hand and handed me a telegram. The postman pushed the paddle of the bicycle and went on his way.
I opened the telegram. It read: “COME SOON STOP FATHER DEAD STOP”
My heart broke into thousand pieces. I remembered the last words my father whispered. “Remember the promise.” He never said no to any of my demands. I had to fulfill his one demand.
I packed my bags and left in a hurry. Had I have turned to look back then, I would have known that in her eyes were the tears and in her hands was the letter tucked with red roses. Her hand was bleeding as thorns have made their way into her soft hands I once held. Had I have turned to look back then, I would have known that her kohl clad eyes kept looking at me waiting for me to return.
I never did.
The doorbell rang and I snapped out of the flashback. First love is always the first love. It always gives you that tingling feeling when you think about the first time you know that you love someone. I approached the door and was delighted to see my daughter. She has arrived from London where she was pursuing Masters in business. ‘I never wanted her to go to another city and study’ I remembered and smiled a guilty smile. Today was the last day a telegram can be sent. I rushed to my room, pulled out the little suitcase, searched a little bit and found a small piece of paper. It was an address which might no longer be available. I was sure she couldn’t be living there, anyway. I knew it was a foolish idea. But then it was love.
I ran to the nearest telegraph office and sent the telegram to her address. I don’t know where or to whom this might be delivered to but it was necessary. I told the person sitting there the message I wanted to send. After the sound of a few dots and dashes the telegram was sent. It read:
“I AM SORRY STOP”
I smiled a content smile and walked back home. That was my ‘last telegram’.