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Morse code: Faux pass

I would like to narrate an incident of the 1970s wherein due to wrong coding and decoding of an important telegram there was tremendous confusion.

telegram

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  18 Oct 2020 3:45 AM GMT

Brigadier R Borthakur

(The writer can be reached at anshre03@yahoo.com)

I would like to narrate an incident of the 1970s wherein due to wrong coding and decoding of an important telegram there was tremendous confusion. During that time telegrams were processed through post offices (only important post offices had that facility). The telegrams were sent in code (known as Morse code after the name of its inventor) which meant the English text was encoded by the dispatching post office and on receipt by the receiving post office the same was decoded to English text and then handed over to the recipient by the peon.

During the period of the incident we were students of Sainik School, Goalpara and were preparing for admission to National Defence Academy (NDA). Once a student qualified in the written examination conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the individual was called for psychology test, group test and interview conducted by the Services Selection Board (SSB).There were seven or eight centres located in different parts of India, (mostly in Central India).

One of my friends received a telegram from the Army Headquarters (AHQ) directing him to report to Service Selection Centre at Abalpur. The place Abalpur was never heard off and no one in the past had ever been called to that centre. Our geography teacher was tasked to locate the place but he also drew blank. Unfortunately, there was no telephone (landline) in our school. Mobiles, internet etc., were out of question those days.

The time was running out. For buying train tickets, one had to go to Guwahati which itself was a difficult proposition in those days. Our headmaster had sent another telegram to AHQ seeking clarifications. A few days later a reply telegram was received from the AHQ. The exact contents I cannotrecall now but it read something like "Refer your telegram, in this connection refer to our earlier telegram, There is no change". So we were back to square one.

Luckily our Principal through his contact in Delhi discovered that the confusion was due to an encoding and decoding error. The first letter "J" was missing in the word 'Abalpur'. The location in question was Jabalpur. Missing out one letter had created all the confusions.

Luckily the student in question successfully got selected and has retired recently from the very high position of Air Commodore (equivalent to Brigadier in the army) in the Air Force.

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