What would we do without telecom?

Today, 17th May is World Telecommunication Day. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union in 1865.

can or cup phone pic
Can/cup phone from our childhood days (Pic received as a Whatsapp forward)

My first introduction to telecommunications was in the early 1970s, and no it was not the telephone. It was my uncle Sangunni who had this shack in the backroom of his house, tapping _ . _ .  _ _ . _  (CQ) on the morse code transmitter-receiver. The room was filled with a lot of other equipment that he would keep fiddling with and he used it to talk to people all over the world. HAM radio (amateur radio) it was! Many years later I got my amateur radio licence too and still have it to this day.

world telecom day
(Thanks to Satish, Brunda for the reminder)

Today, what ever would we have done without telecom? Everyone is talking, texting, browsing, watching. It’s THE “invention” that has made lockdown bearable for many.


Looking back at my telecom association… by education a B.E. in Telecommunication Engineering… ours was one of the early batches of the branch offered by Bangalore University, with 50-odd students. The course was a bit different from the ECE course, with some subjects that others would learn only at Masters level in those days (such as satellite communication and digital technology). Interestingly, I was the only HAM operator in the class.

BMS College of Engineering, Telecommunication Engg, Class of 1992 (Thanks to Subbu for a lovely scan of the class photo)
telecom dept terrace
The terrace of the Telecom Dept, 1992

On this day, I’d like to share the story of one of my classmates Sreeni Kovvuri (Reddy we used to call him in college). In the pic, in the second row from top, seventh from right. Most of us classmates were unaware until he mentioned it… thanks to lockdown conversations.

Sreeni hallticket

Sreeni is the first graduate from his village Bapireddy Camp, located in Gangavathi Taluka in Karnataka (close to the more popular towns of Hampi, Hospet and Daroji, and not very far from the Andhra Pradesh border). When the Tungabhadra dam was built, many Andhra people migrated to Karnataka to do agriculture and his dad migrated in 1952. They used to live in small camps which became villages… Bapireddy was named after the first person in the Bapireddy camp.

Sreeni did his PUC (Std 12) in Hospet in 1988, and then got a seat in BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore. At 18 years of age, he was going to be making his first visit to the big city. Along with a friend, he took the red intercity bus from the village and got dropped off at the main bus stand at Majestic. “At that time, we weren’t sure if there would be local buses. We were asking around and the city bus guy got us on a bus that reached Bangalore Medical College.”  BMC instead of BMS! It took them a while to finally find BMSCE, where they stood in the queue like all of us, to complete the admission formalities.

Sreeni revealed how difficult the early days in college were. Having studied in the village and a small town, he wasn’t used to speaking in English. He would search for people who could talk in Kannada and Telugu, the two local languages he was fluent in. He wasn’t used to the company of girls in class, but as luck would have it, he had a girl Sowmya, as his lab partner. She understood his language problem and helped him with his English, boosting his confidence and that’s how his English speaking improved. Then there were other friends he made… Sahana who would talk in Kannada, Padma who would engage in Telugu conversations… and slowly he started settling in. “I would have returned to my village as I was feeling so uncomfortable… unable to fit into city culture.”

People in his village didn’t understand what telecom engineering was, so he used to give the example of phones to make it simple. “Then they used to think that I am studying phone repairs and installing phone cables.” 

The four years went by in a flash. And then we went our own ways… some got married, some studied further, some started working. Many many went abroad mostly for studies, some later to work. Most still work as “engineers”, and very accomplished ones at that.

After we finished engineering, I’d met ‘Reddy’ a couple of times when he’d visited my home in connection with his job at that time, and then we lost touch. Thanks to telecommunication (the internet and social media in particular) we’re all picking up conversations as if we’d seen each other just yesterday!

Sreeni now lives in Washington DC with his wife and daughter. A very successful engineer in the healthcare insurance sector. An incredible and amazing journey indeed. Thanks Sreeni, for sharing your story. An inspiration to anyone who has dreams.


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