Missionary who championed affordable housing

THE OTHER SIDE OF LAURIE BAKER: Elizabeth Baker; DC Books, DC Kizhakemuri Edam, Good Shepherd Street, Kottayam-686001. Rs. 90.

A. Srivathsan

Laurie Baker is widely known as the champion of affordable housing and his low cost houses dot the various landscapes of this country. Baker died on April 1, 2007. His ideas and work have been extensively written about. The Other Side of Laurie Baker fondly looks at his life and views from an intimate position. Elizabeth Baker reminisces on her life with her famous husband Laurie Baker.

The first half of the book deals with Laurie Baker’s early life in England during the Second World War, his work with the Ambulance unit run by the Quakers and journey to China and Burma. This is told through a serious of letters that he wrote to his mother. The second half of the book is about the life of both the Bakers in India. It is about their life, mission and work.

Missionary work

The tedious routine of the training in the ambulance unit, Laurie Baker’s missionary work with the lepers in China and travel in the jungles of Burma are recorded. Those who may look forward to a detailed section on Gandhiji may be disappointed. It is brief. Gandhiji may have been influential, but Laurie Baker’s principles and missionary zeal were already well formed even before he met Gandhiji.

The second part of the book begins with Laurie Baker’s decision to join “The mission to lepers.” He came to India in 1945 as a missionary and worked in north India especially in the western Himalayas. Elizabeth Baker tenderly describes their first meeting, the ideals they shared and the family opposition to their wedding.

The book is gentle and almost underplays many weighing moments such as Elizabeth’s resolve to marry Laurie even after he fell ill (immediately after the engagement) and was suspected to have leprosy. To her relief and many others Laurie Baker lived a healthy life to serve the poor.

Architectural journey

The book follows Laurie Baker’s architectural journey that began with his modest attempt in Chandag in the Himalayas and concluded in Kerala. Elizabeth is perceptive when she describes Laurie’s first house in Vagamon, Kerala as a Swiss chalet. She briefly describes how Baker moved a long way from the initial Swiss chalet to something more locally ingrained and environmentally sensitive. The book is not a comprehensive and a complete narrative of Laurie Baker’s life. But it fills in with a few lesser known aspects.

Elizabeth finds a man of Tao in Laurie. She quotes Chuang Tzu, the Chinese poet, and with fondness recalls him as a person who goes his way without relying on others and at the same time does not pride himself on walking alone.

A man of Tao also remains unknown and his perfect virtue produces nothing, the poem says. While other portions of poem may be true and match with Baker, this part may not be literally correct.

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