The word engineer has multiple significations. As a noun, it mainly means a person who builds and crafts machines and structures. Also, engineer is someone who skillfully originates an idea or a vital movement. As a verb, the word means, besides “making structures and machines,” to skillfully and systemically make something happen. Social engineering, a term widely used in sociology and in popular idiom, means engineering or effecting long-lasting, and impressive changes in the society. Rarely does there appear a person who carries all these significations in his career. But Engineer TP Kuttiammu was a rare person, indeed.
Kuttiammu Sahib, as he was fondly called by his friends, protégées, admirers and even a few detractors, was one of the first engineering graduates in the state of Kerala. He was born to Khan Bahadur Ammu Sahib, a civil servant with the British Raj who as the Sub Collector in the region made his name in the books of history. He was the originator of many river dam projects in south India, which all became a source of pride as being the cornerstones of irrigational developments. These included Amaravati Irrigation Project, the Nagarjun Sagar Dam in Andra Pradesh, and the Krishna-Pennar Irrigation Project in erstwhile Madras, Peechi Dam, Tannermukkom Bund and Thottappalli Spillway. These laurels aside, Kuttiammu Sahib was known for his clean-handedness. Engineers of the time were notorious for the kickbacks they were receiving. And he was an exception to the rule. And many rules, indeed.
TP Kuttiammu was the first and only chief engineer of Kerala. He was instrumental behind many developmental structures in the then nascent state. The role of the chief engineer was to oversee engineering works in the state, all departments working under his directions. The post was thereafter abrogated and the chief engineers were appointed for each engineering department. While being the chief engineer, he played a pivotal role in providing the capital city of the state its true, vital face. He had dictate for modern constructions and minimalism combined with traditionalism was signature of his craft. With the help of Engineer Gopalakrishnan, who started his career as a draftsman, Kuttiammu Sahib engineered the projects of rebuilding mosques in the state. Palayam Muhyudheen Mosques, the Puzhavakkat Mosque in Calicut are the two distinct architectural masterpieces which bears the hallmark of his craft. He restructured these buildings a’la Indo-Saracenic Revival Architecture. The association of the duo is distinctly marked in the popular history of the state for its secular significations (in the sense of inter-faith collaboration for the cultural and religious works).
If we take the other tenor of the word, engineer, we can see the same skillful imprint that Kuttiammu Sahib left in the social, political, cultural and literary spheres. He was one of the organic intellectuals with All India Muslim League which was a corrective to the deviations in the Indian Union Muslim League. He was the Managing Editor of the Chandrika Daily, the mouthpiece of the Muslim League. Many illustrious writers in north Kerala fondly remembers the guidance, influence and help that Kuttiammu Sahib rendered to them at the budding stage of their literary career. He formed Islamic Centre at Civil Station in Kozhikode, which engineered dynamic literary and cultural activism in north Kerala, which was exemplary for the whole state. Under his stewardship, the centre developed a then-full-fledged library and became an arena for literary and social thinking. During the Shareeat debate in the state, he was a defender of the Islamic law against modernist tendencies which carried Protestant resonance.
He was the author of many books and numerous works in creative journalism. His “Quran Padanathilekku Oru Theerthayathra” (A Pilgrimage to the Study of Quran) is considered to be an original study of the Quran, which was a pioneer in many ways.