If someone tells you that the Taj Hotel in Lal Chowk is near the CTO. That the Telephone Exchange the Women’s College, College of Education are all near CTO. How would you respond. Surprised, bemused, or lost.
CTO stands for Central Telegraph Office and is situated in the heart of city on the main chowk near Pratap Park. Although the name is still there on the top storey of the building in bold letters but alas the office stands since closed. A milestone, but the stone doesn’t exist anymore. Its place in the memory of Srinagarites and of those who visited Kashmir can never be erased.
Tracing the history of this office is like tracing the history of advent of telegraph system in Kashmir and that of transition from the rule of Maharaja to the present day. It is as such clear that this office is witness to many ups and downs, social and political. Going deep in such matters will make this writeup very lengthy and also it is not intended as of now. Suffice to say that if there was any place in the whole valley where all and sundry irrespective of caste and creed, rich or poor, colour and religion found solace, it was CTO. This was because those times were different from today when there used to be no communication with the outside world except telegram. Later with the advent of telephony, the only public telephone available in the valley was here. In those days talking on telephone meant as if landing on moon. The office worked round the clock. That means when the whole Kashmir valley was asleep here the operation of teleprinters, telegraph morse and the PCO was abuzz and life seemed to continue nonstop. Its a sprawling hall, the equipment and the staff worked round the clock – awe inspiring.
It was in such a setting that I joined the office as the only new recruit in that year. The excitement which my joining caused in the staff made me feel something special. May be it was my first visit to the city from my village, donning a Kashmiri cap and the attire of a typical Kashmiri boy. With the passage of time and the affection which I received from my seniors at that time, I became quite familiar with the environment. Since we were required to work round the clock in rotation, a special bond existed with the colleagues.
Days rolled into years and years into decades. But CTO was the same, with the only difference that new systems of communication were added and a big hall was earmarked for journalists who used to send their stories to the outside press agencies and national and foreign newspapers through this office only. This was called “press room “and with my promotion in the supervisory cadre the same used to be in my charge.
This press room used to host veteran journalists of that time and had ample facilities for them to write their stories. Some of the stalwarts of those times are witness to this. New technologies came, with the result the telegram lost its sheen – goodbye telegram. The last nail in the coffin of telegraph system was the advent of mobile telephony. CTO closed.
But alas its closure should not have seen the neglect of an institution of historical background and of immense value to heritage and archeology. This should be actually a matter of concern for all. Whenever I happen to pass through Partap Park I find many things intact. The sign board of the office is still there. The words Central Telegraph Office written on it are visible from a distance. It is high time that someone from archeology and museum department of the state government procures the equipment of telegraphy of yesteryears like Morse Key, Morse Sounder, Teleprinter Machines, Telex, NCR Machines etc., and preserves them for the posterity.