‘Send Javeed Train Waiting Pemmaiah Unwell’

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The Telegram, perhaps the longest serving mode of communication we have had next to the post, has finally been laid to rest in our country amid much mourning.

I wonder where else it has met a similar fate because I am sure many other countries too would have considered it unworthy of living in the present era which perhaps is the acme of the communication revolution that the world has been seeing over the past two decades.

Much has been written in the print media over the past few days by way of epitaphs and nostalgic recollections of the telegraphic era and I do not wish to repeat the same here. I shall therefore only tell my readers what the telegram meant to me when it mattered to me most in my younger days.

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The earliest memory of the telegram I have is of the news of my sister being born in Mysore which was conveyed to my father who was then at our coffee estate in Chickmagalur.

I was then four years old and as soon as he arrived in Mysore, we went to see her.

I took one look at her lying in a tiny crib next to my mother’s cot in the Mission hospital where I was born too and promptly announced to my parents that we could keep her with us just for a few days and then return her to the hospital.

My father to avoid the germination of any sibling rivalry, quickly assured me that we would do just that as soon as we took her for a quick tour of our estate, to which I reluctantly agreed. I did not know then that it was I and not she who was destined to go out of the house, just three months later to commence my long education process!

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I was so fascinated by the speed with which it had once yielded results in summoning my father from so far away that I would now regularly throw tantrums and order that it be sent immediately on similar missions whenever I hurt my little finger or felt hurt that I had not come first in the class running race!

It was a different matter that I would invariably be very successfully placated with just a toffee and told that a telegram had been sent and the delay in seeing its expected result would invariably be attributed to disrupted lines due to bad weather and fallen trees near its destination which was not an infrequent occurrence in the Malnad areas.

As I grew up the telegram suddenly started playing a more important role than summoning my dad.

Until then whenever the holidays started my father under prior telegraphic intimation would send our estate manager and his most trusted lieutenant P.M. Pemmaiah to Mysore to take me to our estate.

He would arrive by bus from Chickmagalur and because I liked travelling by train more than by bus, take me by the first morning train to Hassan where my dad, his elder brother K. A. Sathar and their best friend Muthu Rao would be waiting at the railway station in a 1947 army disposal olive green Jeep to receive us.

From there we would head straight to the Modern Café for my favourite Masala Dosa and Jamoon before heading away towards Chickmagalur.

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One day when I was expecting my escort Pemmaiah to arrive, most unexpectedly we received a second telegram that read “SEND JAVEED TUESDAY TRAIN WAITING HASSAN PEMMAIAH UNWELL”. When my grandfather read it out with an anxious expression on his face and explained what it meant, my joy knew no bounds.

I immediately rejected my uncle, Prof. M. J. Sadiq’s suggestion that he would accompany me up to Hassan, although it was unanimously supported and seconded by all elders as they all felt that I was too young to travel alone.

I promised and swore that I would be a very good boy on that day and also on all days to come thereafter and would never put my hands or head out of the windows or get down from the train, come what may, except at Hassan.

But opposition was intense and the elders relented only after I declared that I would not eat anything or go unless I was allowed to do it on my own. And, I did it.

To the little boy that I was then, that was the greatest journey of my life and I cherish its memory to this day. The 75 miles I did in just five hours is a world record for me and the greatest part about it is no one in the world can break it now!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece appeared)

Photograph: courtesy Christian Science Monitor