R.I.P. Telegram : Memories from my Military Life

During the early years in my Air Force career, telegrams were our leave-line. It was a sure shot way to get leave sanctioned in the unlikeliest of the situations. It was an open secret that many of us used and misused.

First I am reminded of a not-so-funny incident. In one of the Units where I served, there were two guys with the same surname, Rath. In military, it is common practice to address people by surnames and nobody bothers to remember the first name. One Rath lost his father and when the telegram carrying the message arrived, it was inadvertently delivered to the other Rath. This second Rath was devastated, because his father was quite healthy. However there was no way to confirm the same, as there were no telephone lines to his remote village, where his parents stayed. The moment the news spread there was a steady pouring in of sympathizers. It was only when, someone, casually went through the telegram lying on a side table that he discovered the telegram was addressed to the other Rath, causing an immediate shifting of the mourning venue.

R.I.P. Telegram

One of my colleagues had difficulty in getting leave to even get married. Suddenly one day he receives a telegram “Father expired come soon”. Immediately he got the leave sanctioned and proceeded home. However, we were in for a shock when after coming back  he announced that he had got married during the leave period. Our immediate reaction was, “How can you… when your father…..”.  He explained, “The –FATHER- mentioned in the telegram was not MY father. It was the father of the person who sent the telegram”. Of course, this so called person happened to be one of his distant relatives.

Let me remind the reader that for greeting telegrams certain codes could be substituted. It was done to reduce telegram traffic and charge. The procedure, as  I understand, is as follows: suppose you want to send a telegram wishing Happy Birth Day. The greeting code is five. So  in the telegram form you write ‘FIVE’. At the receiving post office, the postal official clerk  comes to know what it means, writes the message-  Many Happy returns of the day - and sends it through the postman for delivery.  This incident is related to my friend – the first Rath of the earlier episode. I had also taken leave to attend to his marriage in his native village. One day while we were away in the nearby town for shopping, his father received a telegram. The telegram had only one message – seventeen. His father though it was some secret military message to recall us back. May be some war had broken out and our leave would be curtailed. The whole family was in panic. There was no way to clarify the same immediately. It was only when we returned in the evening that we saw the telegram and laughed. One of our friends had sent marriage greetings. The post man, being may be untrained and newly appointed did not know to decipher the code and delivered the message verbatim.

-Durga Prasad Dash

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