In his elegantly lyrical poem, Meghduta, the great poet Kalidasa has narrated how a Yaksha is exiled from his home in the Himalayas, and forced to live on a peak in the Vindhya mountains for a year. He wishes to comfort his new bride, who has to stay alone in the Himalayas, but does not have a way to send her a message.

In desperation he begs a cloud to carry his message to his wife

 O cloud, the parching spirit stirs thy pity;
My bride is far, through royal wrath and might;
Bring her my message to the Yaksha city,
Rich-gardened Alaka, where radiance bright
From Shiva’s crescent bathes the palaces in light.

 A cloud is an unlikely messenger, no doubt. But there have been others equally unusual.

In some parts of Africa, ‘talking drums’ were used to send messages. The sounds of the drum could approximate spoken sounds, and ‘conversations’ could take place between two drummers a few miles apart. The message would be passed on from drummer to drummer until it reached its destination, often many miles away.

In earlier days, Native Americans used smoke signals to send messages.  A secret code would be used, with different meanings assigned to the number of puffs in the signal. The code would be different for different tribes. Generally smoke signals sent from the top of a hill signified danger.

Homing pigeons have been domesticated and trained to carry messages over long distances.  The message is written on thin paper which is rolled up and attached to the pigeon’s leg.  These carrier pigeons generally carry messages only one way- to their home, but they have been trained on occasion to fly back and forth.

Carrier pigeons were first used to send messages, by the Egyptians and the Persians, thousands of years ago.

In India, these pigeons were used by Tipu Sultan. They used to return to the Jama Masjid mosque- the pigeon-holes are still visible in the minarets there.

During the two World Wars, carrier pigeons were used extensively to send messages. In fact, a homing pigeon, Cher Ami,  was decorated with the French Croix de guerre medal for his heroic service in delivering 12 important messages during World War I, despite having been very badly injured.

During the Indian war for freedom in 1857,  freedom fighters used  rotis ( unleavened bread) and lotus flowers to spread the message of revolution.

How tame and prosaic in comparison are today’s means of sending messages.  A click of the mouse can send a letter through cyber-space in an instant. No waiting for a reply- that may come within minutes.

In the Meghduta, the Yaksha tells the cloud-

Learn first, O cloud, the road that thou must go,
Then hear my message ere thou speed away;
Before thee mountains rise and rivers flow:
When thou art weary, on the mountains stay,
And when exhausted, drink the rivers’ driven spray.

And then he describes at length, the route that the cloud-messenger should take.

No chance of composing such a wonderful poem of 111 stanzas, on how an e-mail should be sent!

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[image of  ‘talking drum’- courtesy wikimedia]

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