My Alma Mater and Me

The College of Engineering, Trivandrum started functioning in the year 1938 as the first Engineering College in the state.  The college comprised a main building (painted in brick red), a classroom building (painted in cream yellow), and other smaller buildings to house the laboratories.  Pictures of the main building and the classroom building are shown below.  The first Principal of the college was an Englishman, Maj. T.H. Mathewman (1939-43).  The courses offered were Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering, with a total student intake of 21. The first batch of students graduated in 1943.

College of Engg., Tvm – Old Campus, Main Building – 2006 get-together of the 1956 batch. This building now houses the Office of Postmaster General, Kerala.

College of Engg., Trivandrum – Old Campus, Classroom Building. This building is now the Science Block of Kerala State Science & Technology Museum.

The next principal of the college was Prof. D.L. Deshpande (1943-48), who later left the college to become the first director of Birla Institute of Technology, Sindri (1950-61).  For a short period (1948-50), Prof. S. Ramachandra acted as the principal.  He was succeeded by Dr. M.V. Kesava Rao (1950-52, 53-61), who headed the institution for many years.

When I stepped into the portals of the College of Engineering, Trivandrum in 1952 as a 16-year-old boy, I had no idea that, not only my student days but most of my professional career would be tied up with that institution.

My father Prof. S. Rajaraman was working as the Professor in Civil Engineering there, and held charge as Principal during 1952-53.  He was one of my teachers too.  A brief biographical sketch of my father is appended here.

Prof. S. Rajaraman (1913 – 1997).

Prof. S. Rajaraman graduated in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy, Madras (Chennai) in 1933, obtaining a gold medal for securing the first rank in the university.  After short stints in the construction firm Gannon Dunkerley at Madras and in the state PWD at Koraput (now in Odisha), he joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum in 1938 as one of its founding faculty members.

In those days, the engineering students in India had to rely on British text books.  Prof. S. Rajaraman authored and brought out 10 books on various Engineering subjects, which became a boon for engineering students throughout India in the nineteen forties and fifties.

Prof. S. Rajaraman was appointed as the first principal of the College of Engineering, Thrissur in 1958.  In 1961, he became the first principal of the Regional Engineering College, Calicut, which was later upgraded as a National Institute of Technology.  From 1961 to 1967, Prof. Rajaraman worked as the Director of Technical Education, Kerala, and retired in that post.

Rajaraman passed away in 1997 at the ripe age of 84 years.  He is fondly remembered by his relatives, friends and former students as a dedicated teacher and, above all, a man of impeccable integrity, who contributed immensely to the development of technical education in Kerala for nearly three decades.

I graduated in Civil Engineering in 1956 from the College of Engineering, Trivandrum, and was awarded a gold medal for securing the first rank in the university (Travancore University, subsequently renamed as Kerala University).  After a short stint as Supervisor in Kerala P.W.D., I joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum as a faculty member in 1957.

I did my post-graduate studies also in the same institution, joining the first batch of the newly started Master’s degree course in Civil Engineering (Hydraulics branch) in 1959.  I acquired the Master’s degree in 1960, and was awarded a gold medal for securing the first rank in the university. This outcome was of special significance to me since some eminent engineers much more senior to me were my classmates.

Space constraint was so acute in the college campus that a decision was taken to shift the college to a more spacious 125-acre campus, about 8 km north of the existing one.  During the summer vacation of 1961, the college was shifted to its new campus near the village Kulathoor, on the outskirts of Trivandrum.

College of Engineering, Trivandrum – Main Building.

Main Building – Facade.

In 1970, I was promoted as Professor of Civil Engineering in the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

In 1975, I was awarded the Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering following my doctoral research work carried out at the I.I.T., Madras (Chennai).

In 1986, I was promoted as Principal of the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.  After 30 years of service in my Alma Mater, I became the Director of Technical Education, Kerala in 1987, and worked in that post until 1991.  It gave me unique satisfaction to have worked and retired in the same post as my father had done long before. Subsequently, I did a 5-year stint as Visiting Professor in the I.I.T., Madras until 1996.

After retirement, myself and my wife have settled down in our house in Trivandrum.  Amateur Radio operation and experimentation, tinkering with computers and reading books keep me engaged, so much so, my retired life is not at all boring!

The College of Engineering, Trivandrum has, over the years, grown by leaps and bounds.  Now it offers several B.Tech. courses, several M.Tech. courses and the MBA course, with an annual intake of nearly 1000 students.


The most stimulating and carefree period of my life comprised the four years (1952-56) that I spent as a day-scholar in the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.  The 1956 Civil batch consisted of 38 students.  Our first-year classes began in August 1952.

Let me begin by paying homage to our senior teachers who are no more.  Prof. S. Rajaraman taught us Practical Plane & Solid Geometry in the first year and Theory of Structures in the final year.  He was so thorough with Solid Geometry, a subject requiring 3-dimensional visualisation, that he would go very fast on the blackboard, leaving some of the students bewildered.  One student gathered courage to mimic his fast teaching of Solid Geometry during one of our annual college day functions, which left the audience roaring with laughter!

When I enrolled as a student for the newly started Master’s degree course in our college in 1959, there was paucity of qualified staff, and Prof. K.C. Chacko single-handedly taught us quite a few of the subjects.  His sustained effort enabled us to complete the course as scheduled.  Incidentally, Prof. K.C. Chacko was a contemporary of Prof. S. Rajaraman.

For our Bachelor’s degree course, Prof. S. Natarajan taught us Water Supply and Sanitary Engg. in his slow-paced style.  Prof. T.C. George taught us Advanced Surveying including Field Astronomy, a subject in which I had a deep interest.  Prof. J.C. Alexander taught us Building Construction and Architecture in his characteristic humorous style.  The soft-spoken Prof. G. Nagappan Nair taught us Mathematics.

Interestingly, S. Vasudev, who taught us Hydraulics, was my classmate when we did our master’s course.  Later on, he acquired his Ph.D. degree in USA.  Eventually, he functioned as the Director of Technical Education, Kerala until 1982.  Sadly, he passed away in 1987, aged 60 years.

T.S. Ramanatha Iyer, who was a junior faculty member in 1955, assisted Prof. Rajaraman in handling Theory of Structures for us in our final year class.  He later acquired his Ph.D. degree, and eventually became the Director of Technical Education, Kerala.  It was on his retirement in 1987 that I was promoted to that post.  Sadly, he passed away in 2013, aged 81 years.

I had a special attachment to some subjects like Engineering Design & Drawing, Advanced Surveying (including Field Astronomy) and Geology.

In those days, drawing was given much more importance than now in the engineering degree course.  Apart from innumerable pencil drawing sheets, we were also required to do a few drawing sheets in black ink.  While the majority of students disliked doing ink drawings, I liked doing ink drawings and would spend hours embellishing them.  When I look at some of those drawing sheets now, I am filled with nostalgic pleasure.  However, while I was good at Engineering Drawing, I was poor at freehand drawing like, say, sketching the face of a person!

The Civil Engineering batch of 1956 turned out to be special. Almost all the high-ranking graduates of our batch chose to pursue an academic career.  A. Kulathu Aiyer, P.V. John, L. Srinivasa Iyer, N. Sukesan Nair, N. Padmanabha Iyer, T.K. George and R. Jayaraman (myself) — all the seven of us joined the college as lecturers.  A. Kulathu Aiyer and L. Srinivasa Iyer left the college after more than a decade of service, and took up faculty positions in USA.  The rest of us continued in our alma mater, acquired Ph.D. degrees (from other universities) and eventually became Professors.

Dr. A. Kulathu Aiyer (1936-2005).

I wish to make a special mention of A. Kulathu Aiyer here.  The two of us were the youngest students in our class.  And, we were in healthy competition for the top rank in all the four years of our studies.  After graduation, we both joined our college as lecturers in Jan.1957.  After leaving the college, Kulathu Aiyer took his Ph.D. in USA, and joined New Mexico State University as a faculty member. We remained good friends over the years.  Sadly, he passed away in USA in 2005 at the age of 69 years.

L. Srinivasa Iyer also took his Ph.D. in USA, and joined South Dakota School of Mines & Technology as a faculty. He specialized in fibre-reinforced concrete, and has some US patents to his credit.  Srinivasa Iyer has been a consultant to many US state engineering departments on Bridges and Bridge safety. He is settled in USA, and lives near Los Angeles. We meet whenever he comes to India.

P.V. John is now settled in Trivandrum.  We meet now and then.  N. Sukesan Nair is also settled in Trivandrum. N. Padmanabha Iyer passed away around 1995.

The classmate and colleague who has frequent interaction with me now is T.K. George, who is also settled in Trivandrum, and lives not far off from my house.  T.K. George has been my classmate even in the junior college where we studied before joining the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

Campus Jokes that originated in CET:

Every institution has a unique repertoire of campus jokes that reflect the milieu in the institution.  Let me quote just a few of the CET Campus jokes:

#.  In the evenings, the day-scholar students would be in a mad rush to return home.  One student who skipped his final-hour class was caught the next day by his teacher who asked, “When did you leave the college yesterday?”  The student replied, “At 4 pm only, Sir.”  The teacher retorted, “Don’t lie to me.  Yesterday I saw you cycling through the window at 3 pm!”

#.  A faculty member was handling a class on Surveying, and had brought with him an alidade for showing it to the students.  At the end of the lecture, he held up the alidade and asked an inattentive back-bencher student, “What is the name of this instrument?”  The startled boy hesitantly stood up and muttered, “Adelaide!”

#.  On Wednesdays, we used to have our third-year Mathematics class in the final period of our morning session (evidently, not a good time to learn Mathematics!).  Our genial Mathematics teacher had a soft voice, so much so, the back-benchers often became restive during his class.  One day, the din became intolerable at 11.55 am.  Our teacher looked up at the back-benchers, and asked in his soft voice, “What is the problem?”  One student stood up and said, “Sir, it is time for lunch.”  Our teacher looked at his watch, then at the class, and said softly and smilingly, “I have also got a small watch!”  As we burst into laughter, he quietly resumed his lecture.  His words became a catch-phrase for us.  We found that it fitted admirably in a variety of situations in life!  

#.  When a batch of Civil Engineering students, who were proceeding on their educational tour, visited a dam spillway, the shutters were raised and water was gushing over the spillway.  One student asked the site engineer, “Sir, are these shutters automatic or manhandled?”

#.  A faculty member was addressing his students on the eve of their all-India educational tour.  He looked at the students and said sternly, “When we go on technical visits and meet the engineers there, don’t ask blunder questions.  I will ask everything!”

#.  Until the nineteen sixties, a faculty member had to go abroad to acquire the Ph.D. degree.  An assistant professor of the CET had just returned after acquiring the prestigious ‘foreign’ Ph.D. degree.  A lecturer friend of his visited his home to felicitate him.  The proud assistant professor brought a spotless towel and requested the lecturer friend to wash his hands.  The surprised lecturer did so, and returned to his seat, expecting a nice treat.  The assistant professor opened his cupboard, took out his neatly bound Ph.D. thesis, gave it to his friend and said, “This is my Ph.D. thesis.  Please glance through it.”

#.  A faculty member of the CET toiled for 4 years and managed to acquire his Ph.D. degree from the I.I.T., Kharagpur.  While he was narrating his experiences to a few of his colleagues, in walked another faculty member, a Ph.D. from Cornell University, who declared, “One needs only 2 years to take the Ph.D.!”  The Kharagpur Ph.D. replied, “Taking a Ph.D. in USA is easy.  Here, it is not so.  The I.I.T.’s think twice before awarding the Ph.D.”  The Cornell Ph.D. retorted, “In your case, they would have thought thrice!”

Dr. R. Jayaraman, 1986.

#.  A faculty member of the CET, who was also a keen radio amateur, was contacting a number of DX (long-distance) stations in a rare ‘DX pile-up’ in the morning.  Suddenly he looked up at the clock and realised that his lecture class was due to commence in 15 minutes!  He dressed up in a hurry, dashed to his car, and started it.  His wife came running behind, shouting, “Dear!  Here is your shirt!”


There is the well-known campus joke about the fidgety principal of a historic Trivandrum college, who pointed out to a visiting dignitary the exquisite paintings and photos of former principals adorning the foyer of the college building, and remarked excitedly, “One day, I will also hang like this!”  The dignitary retorted with a mischievous smile, “You really deserve that!”

Well, the attached picture shows how I am hanging in the foyer of the College of Engineering, Trivandrum!