Monday, May 26, 2008

Rumbling sound becomes music

Can you enjoy sound of a market place and like?

I don't remember in which cinema it had been pictured that a young boy is shown applying his ear to a telegraph post. As children we copied it and used to put our ear to a telegraph post and imagined that the sound of the vibration of wires due to wind was message passing on the line. Children enjoyed modulated sounds just by cupping and opening the ear. I believed that to understand the messages we learn some code. In fact the electrical signal on the line was not at all related to the mechanical sound heard due to vibration of wires and transferred to the post and to the ear.

A few decades back telegraph offices were common place in India as telegraph was fast communication media before telephone usurped that position. Morse code is the telegraph signaling method to transfer messages from one point to the other. (Morse code can be in the form of flashes of light also.) For sustained systems wireless or wired systems are preferred. In India omnibus earth return DC signaling method was used. Breaking or making the current flow on the line was the technology used so that current passing in the magnetic coil moved an armature at the distant end and make it strike some metallic stopper to make sound to be heard and interpreted. Two types of duration in sounds (current) were adopted- one say one unit (called dot) and the other three units (called dash) The time duration of dot determined the speed of the operator. katta(dash) kada(dot) were used in different combinations to signify different letters. The codes of each letter are unequal in time duration and the combination is not based on sound pattern but the commonest letters have the shortest codes. In places where telegraphic traffic were not dense omnibus route would be lined up. This means messages meant for one station would be heard on all the station sounders. This implied that sounders appear busy all the time as the collective traffic would be passing consecutively. One significant point has to be made out here.The stream could sound rumbling for a stranger. But they were not so for an official who knew the code reading.

Now with the advent of modern methods, morse carrying circuits are non existant in India.

I will narrate my story: I had to learn morse telegraphy as a part of my job. When we were undergoing training as Engineering Supervisors in the then P&T Department we were taught morse telegraphy to attain a speed of 16 words while operating speed was 25+. I started my career as Engineering Supervisor, Telegraphs at Junagadh in Gujarath. Routine duties as managing interruption on trunk telephone and telegraph circuits were not so eventful in the begining. First piece of construction work of erecting some 2 km of telegraph line to open a telegraph office at Prabhaspatan was in progress and it was being directed by my boss to field staff on the assumption that I may not do well being raw. However installing the office equipment like telegraph (Dubern) sounder and morse key including protectors was entrusted to me.

Prabhaspatan is an important place for it is the place where Lord Krishna departed from this world. This is a very important center for Hindus. It is very close to Veeraval, a port city at the sourthen tip of Saurastra penunsula. Rebuilt Somanath temple is close to Veeraval city. But Prabhaspatan itself is very tiny and nothing significant than a small temple existed and installation of telegraph facility looked only symbolic more so as the inauguration of the temple by the President of India had taken place just recently. Our staff were recounting their part in the event. Department of Posts and Telegraphs provided facility for broadcasting the audio of the function of inauguration over AIR.

After office equipment were installed and connections were made the sounder made SOUNDS! But Those SOUNDS were special. I even wondered whether sounds could come out of the equipment installed by me! It sounded like heavenly music to me and I was thrilled beyond my own perception. Rumbling sound became music to my ears. Hear some morse message recording here and I am sure that it will never be a music to you.


Harit said...

Very interesting piece. Gives a historical perspective to communication before phone lines. With cell phones and internet, it is hard to imagine those days were only a few years back!!

I liked the way you tie the beginning of the story at the end.

Roshan said...

Uncle, I enjoyed every bit of the story. It is amazing that the digital telephony uses the same katta kada to transmit digitized audio.

I had a chance to experience a similar excitement when we did the first PacketCable telephony installation in Kentucky. That was the first ever PacketCable installation in North America.