Taming Rivers Recollections of a Civil
Engineer During the British Raj

Dynamics of Colonial India

By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar | September 2023

Khan Bahadur Abdur Rahman Khan, a civil engineer by his profession, takes readers on a journey through a crucial era in India’s history in his book titled “Taming Rivers Recollections of a Civil Engineer during the British Raj,” which provides a captivating account of the challenges, triumphs, and alterations witnessed during the British colonial period.

Reflecting the author’s lifelong experiences, professional exposure and first-hand information, and technical expertise, the book offers readers a comprehensive understanding of the details of how construction work was conceived and completed across the river banks during the British Raj. The author was inducted into the Imperial Service of India in 1917. He is regarded as one of the first few non-British engineers on the Frontier. His revolutionary efforts in surveying, designing, and constructing dams and other irrigation projects laid the foundations for developing sound irrigation systems in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

The book, comprising 27 chapters, explores the struggle between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Indian National Congress when the political tussle was at its peak. During those times, NWFP, a Muslim-majority province, was aligned politically with the Indian National Congress.

The book recounts the author’s early memories, lifelong experiences, and profound reflections in great detail. During his career as a civil engineer, Khan lived in Abbottabad, Sialkot, Mardan, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Peshawar, and Bahawalpur, among other cities. Indeed, residing in these cities, meeting with people from various backgrounds, and exploring viewpoints, Khan developed a keen insight and acumen that helped him perform his duties excellently. This is why during his tenure in Peshawar, he rubbed shoulders with the British heads of the government.

One of the book’s strengths is its ability to transport readers to a bygone era. The author’s vivid recollections paint a vibrant picture of the landscapes, lifestyles, and societal dynamics of colonial India. The narrative style is engaging and accessible, making it equally appealing to readers with varying levels of technical knowledge. He balances technical descriptions of engineering projects with personal reflections, allowing readers to grasp the significance of his work on both practical and human levels. This connects the readers to the author’s personal and professional life and takes them to the era when technology was non-existent as manual power reigned supreme.

Khan’s immaculate design sense and focused approach to completing projects won him coveted titles such as Khan Sahib and Khan Bahadur in the 1930s. He was hailed as the Doyen of Pakistani Engineers for his work on the Kurram Garhi, Warsak, and Mangla Dams.

Khan’s narrative is also an invaluable resource for historians and scholars interested in the socio-political dynamics of the British colonial period. His interactions with British officials, local communities, and fellow engineers offer insights into this era’s power dynamics and cultural insights. Through Khan’s eyes, readers gain an appreciation for the multifaceted influences that shaped colonial infrastructure development.

The book “Taming Rivers Recollections of a Civil Engineer during the British Raj” is a captivating account that bridges the gap between personal recollections and historical documentation. Khan Bahadur Abdur Rahman Khan’s unique insights and storytelling, backed with experience, make this book a valuable addition to the literature on the colonial era and civil engineering.