‘Feed yourself with soul curry!’ advised my friend.
‘Do what you want to do with your life, don’t snoop on me!’, admonished my son.
‘Helicopter parent!’, yelled my bellicose daughter.
‘Don’t nag me! Please leave me alone!’, said my usually quiet and placid man.
Having touched the middle class dream ceiling of settled children, with a comfortable career of their own calling and aware of all the problems of middle age blues creeping up in the near future, I felt like a satellite, revolving around ‘planet family’, with very little time to feed the soul. Enough was enough! I decided to do something with my life, to create my own space, to find my niche.
I wasn’t sure of where to begin. I hadn’t been too adventurous, just lazy and happy being wrapped up in making a nest without realizing the fledglings will one day fly away.
‘Why not tell stories tucked away in your heart, those that spoke to you but you shushed them to sleep because the tiffin boxes had to be packed, the laundry waiting to be folded and the endless household chores had to be done’, my slumbered soul suddenly poked me, creative juices trickling in my clogged brain.
Yes! I came to the conclusion that I will be a spinner of yarns, an anecdotist, emptying stories from my story bin.
I decided to write about something from my past that contained all the navrasas, having the ability to make the Bollywood potboiler look humble. Romance, drama, suspense, mystery, tears of mirth or tragedy were unleashed once it was opened. Happiness, reciprocity, thoughtfulness and heart-burns were wrapped around the tiny fragile message of brevity.
Those who belonged to the generation before the unveiling of digitally superior technology would guess right.
Bang on! The correct answer is the Telegram.
For the uninitiated, the telegram of yore was a typed message, ensconced in a rectangular envelope. This was not an ordinary harbinger of news but speedier than the regular snail mail. It could send down shivers of terror down the spine of many- a- valiant souls. I grew up to see the shrill cry of ‘Telegram!’ in the day or night time, making the family members ashen faced, never having faith that there could be something positive in store. Apart from this juxtaposition of news- of success or failure, birth or death, there were mix- ups too, resulting in a lot of hullabaloo.
Having written my first public exam, I was experiencing butterflies in my stomach waiting for the judgement, my jubilant father entered waving the newspaper. I had secured first division. Just as the neighbors trooped in to congratulate, the telegram man came. Having had his share of sweets and bakshish (tip), he made his exit, leaving us to unravel the message in upper case, “CONGRATULATIONS- THIRD DIVISION”. Such contradictory roller- coaster rides made us stronger in moral fiber.
The special messages were delivered in an envelope where the lotuses in bloom were printed, both within and without. Each message had a number. I remember getting ‘Happy Onam’ message delivered on my marriage from my cousin.
The postman, working for the Post and Telegraph Department, delivered the telegram. He not only had to work in rain, hail, fog or biting chill but had to be a nocturnal creature too, traversing through deserts, hills and hostile terrains. Sometimes he had to read the message for the illiterate and double up as a nurse or counsellor in case the message was too tragic or require urgent medical response. The message carrier and the message, faded out of our lives, taking away the human connection and the camaraderie that was an integral part of life which we thought would be there forever.
As Portia said aptly in The Merchant of Venice, ‘If he loses, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music’. What once drove our heartbeats to crescendo is in eternal peace now. Once seen as a speedy and inexpensive way of deliverance of alerts since its inception in the middle of the 19th century, was viewed as too slow and financially unviable, in the hypersonic world by 2013.
Most endings are sad. As a fragment of the past perishes, it wrenches away a part of us along with it. One is left with a void hard to fill yet its resonance leaves behind an untold story, a requiem of an era, waiting to be told.