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The future has not yet arrived, it seems

With the telegram gone, all those typists who typed out urgent messages will be out of jobs

Gulf News

I was sad to learn that India would phase out the telegram, but puzzled that the Canadian tax department wanted my tax receipts sent by fax.

“Who the heck uses a fax anymore?” I asked my wife angrily, because I not only had to scan the sheaf of papers, but also find a place which sends faxes as I don’t own a fax machine.

However, she tried to calm me down by saying that one does not fool around with bureaucracy and its mysterious ways. (To be fair, the tax department also sent a self-addressed brown envelope if I chose to send it by mail, but I couldn’t stuff all those papers in it. I suppose in today’s era of email snooping, snail-mail is the safest way of sending sensitive documents).

I should have first checked with my office, because only later did I find out that it has a fax machine hidden somewhere and that I would only be charged the regular phone call rate to send the bunch of papers.

But I was in downtown Al Karama at a shop with a sign that said, ‘Typing Centre’. I thought typewriters were old technology and had been phased out along with fountain pens, but the men behind the counter were not really typing on typewriters, but on beat up desk-top computers, which are another form of ancient technology that is slowly being phased out in a world of tablets and Netbooks.

There were snaking, dusty wires connected to the mouse, keyboards, and then, all together, to a printing machine placed next to the owner of this ancient place. The owner apparently had not heard about wireless mouse, wireless keyboard and bluetooth.

There was also a photocopying machine near a water cooler and the man behind the counter said it would cost me a dirham per page just to scan and print my tax papers. “And the fax charges?” I asked, and was told that it would be Dh4 per minute. I looked at the bunch of papers in my hand and wondered whether I would go broke even before filing in the tax papers.

We were told about a decade or so back that in the future, we would be living in a paperless world and the forests and trees would not be decimated and the land would not erode and flash floods will never happen as mankind will no longer require anything to be printed on paper.

Obviously, the future has not yet arrived, but has sadly finally come for the telegram, which will be phased out next month. All those typists that typed out urgent messages such as, “Tiger ate station master. Train cancelled. Cannot rejoin duty on August 14”, will be out of jobs.

The telegram was usually a harbinger of terrible news: “Radha has run away with neighbour’s son Ramu. Pappa has suffered heart attack.” After receiving news like that you were still supposed to tip the postman who would be waiting patiently on his bicycle. Like Twitter, where you can only send and receive messages which are less than 140 characters, a telegram usually had cryptic messages as each word was charged. Since the typists’ English was terrible, the message you received usually seemed like a secret code.

The telegram was a useful form of communication, especially if your parents lived in the rural areas and you were in the urban hinterland.

A phone call to your village would cost the earth and you had to book what was known as a “Trunk Call”. A trunk call was an urgent call, but most of the time you could not hear what the other party was saying and the conversation usually consisted of a lot of “hellos” and the line would then get disconnected.