When Telegrams Were Bad!

Experts have taken from the Book ‘Wise and Otherwise – A Salute to Life!” by Sudha Murty.

The difference between animals and human beings is communication. If one is good at it, then many misunderstandings can be reduced. Clear thinking and clear communication are therefore essential in everyday life. Indeed, many communication classes are offered nowadays. For those in a hurry, there are crash courses.

Lata and I were close friends right from childhood. In a small town, friendship grows faster and thicker than in big cities. Maybe people from small towns depend on each other more. Or maybe the culture in a small place is different than in a big city. Industrialization has its own impact on human relations. In our small-town environment, Lata and I enjoyed our closeness. I was a frequent visitor to her house and I knew everybody there. It was the same with Lata. She came over to our place often and knew my family very well. In due course, we completed our degrees and the time came for us to go our different ways. We parted with heavy hearts as I took up a job in Pune and went away.

I became involved in my career and used to meet Lata only when I visited my home town. Telephones were the prerogative of the rich in those days—I am talking of the situation some twenty-five years ago—and roadside STD booths were unknown. If anything was urgent, the only channel of communication available was the telegram. The telegram denoted a whole new culture in those days. In villages and small towns, a telegram was a big event, often a harbinger of bad news.

One day, I received a telegram. As usual, it was ominous. ‘Father expired.

Start immediately,’ it said. The sender’s name was given as Lata.


I was shocked. My colleagues were very kind to me. One of them called the railway station immediately to book a ticket on the next train to my home town while another applied for leave on my behalf. I just sat still, crying.

My father was more than a friend to me. We used to talk a lot and discuss many things. The previous week, when I had visited him, he had been hale and hearty. He had not shown any signs of illness. What could have happened? Was it a heart attack or an accident? How was my mother? How difficult it would be for her!

One of my colleagues used to get a telegram similar to the one I had just received at least once every year. ‘Granny expired. Start immediately,’ his telegram would read. He would tell me that this was the best way to get leave.

‘Do you have enough leave?’ he asked me now, thinking the telegram I had received was one like his. I was very angry with him.

My journey back home was simply unbearable. I thought of my childhood and my college days when my father was a part of everything. At first he was a role model, but later, when I had seen more of the world, he became more of a friend than a hero.

I remember feeling that my childhood had gone forever. My father and I had so many dreams of travelling together, reading many books and discussing things. All my dreams were shattered. I knew life had to go on, but I thought that if he were alive then life would have been so much more enjoyable.

When I reached my home town, I was expecting at least one of my numerous cousins to be at the station to receive me. To my surprise, there was no one from my family. I was a little upset. Then I consoled myself thinking that everybody must be in mourning. And anyhow, how were they to know that I was coming by this particular train, I reasoned. So I took an auto and reached home. As we neared the house, my heart started pounding—the same road, the same house, but today it was without my dear father.

I got down from the auto and noticed that the house was rather quiet. It was calm and there was no sign of people inside. I was surprised. How could that be? My father was a very popular doctor and professor. Surely people would have come to pay their last respects. I couldn’t see any of my cousins either. I went in. The house was whitewashed, decorated with flowers and mango leaves. It looked as though it was a happy occasion. I did not know what to do. I stood there still and silent, like a lamp post.


Just then there was a noise coming from my father’s room. I turned and I could not believe what I saw. My father was standing there, smiling happily at me. Is it a dream? I asked myself.

My father seemed very happy to see me. He said, ‘I knew that you would make it for the engagement somehow. She is your favourite cousin after all.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘The engagement. Lata’s marriage is fixed. The boy’s family wants to hold the engagement this evening itself. He is in Delhi. The marriage is …’

I stopped him. ‘Who sent the telegram? Why did you write that? Why did you lie to me? You of all people! I never expected you to lie.’

But my father did not understand what I was saying. ‘What telegram are you talking about? We had to send a telegram so that you could come.’

‘But why this kind of telegram?’ I was very upset and agitated as I gave him the telegram I had received. My father was surprised and said that he hadn’t sent it. Confusion. Then who had sent it?

Suddenly, he smiled. ‘I know what must have happened. Your friend Lata’s father passed away yesterday. You know that he was sick. You knew him very well. That may be the reason why Lata sent you a telegram. There was a miscommunication. She should have said, “My father passed away”.’ The word ‘my’ was missing. What havoc it had caused!

It was now clear to me that the telegram was sent by my friend Lata, and back home it was celebration time for my cousin Lata’s engagement. I was left wondering what my colleagues would think when they saw the other telegram, the one actually sent by my family, which read, ‘Lata’s marriage fixed.

Engagement tomorrow.’