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In 1963 the Bakers moved to Kerala, Elizabeth Baker’'s homeland. Laurie happened to meet a Belgian monk Francis who followed the Hindu way of monasticism and had started an ashram at Kurisumala in a place called Vagamon in the Kottayam/Idukki border. When Laurie told him about their work in the Himalayas Acharya Francis convinced Laurie to come stay in Vagamon since the tribal people and poor displaced people here had no medical facilities at all. Both in Pithoragarh and Vagamon, the Bakers started a hospital and several schools. These were opportunities for Laurie to build. The unique and extreme climatic conditions and topographical challenges of the Himalayas and the remote densely wooded hills of South India meant Laurie had to use his ingenuity and skills to utmost.

 


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For a number of reasons we pulled up our roots from our Himalayan home and moved south to the State of Kerala with its extremely beautiful local indigenous bamboo style of architecture. Again, at first, we chose a remoter rural area to live and work in, and again, we ourselves built our own home and hospital in the local style with local materials. We settled down to live in a completely different setting from that of north India. I found the relationships of Kerala vs. India very comparable to that of Britain vs. the rest of Europe. The people were 'insular' and proud, and their ways were very different (and in their own eyes superior) to those of others. Many more people were educated and literate, and this was especially true among the women folk. This had both advantages and disadvantages. For example, there were many attractive ways of using local building materials. The coconut palm leaf was split and the fronts plaited together to form a thatch which was pleasing to the eye and of extremely good insulation value. The plaiting work had always been done by the older girls in their spare time, but now almost all girls went to school and more and more of them to college and there was neither the time nor the inclination to make these stock of thatched leaves ready for the annual re-thatching. And so, for similar reasons, there was a strong move in the urban plains especially to abandon 'old-fashioned ways' and go in for 'modern' buildings using plenty of cement and reinforced concrete.

 

Unlike in the Himalayas I had little time to help with my wife's hospital work as I became quite involved in local building activities. Many people and institutions were showing great interest in reducing costs of building. It all started when all the Bishops had agreed to work together at the Kerala Bishops' conference for the good of the common poor man. They had. with great fanfare, agreed that each parish in the state should try and put up at least one inexpensive, small house and give it to the poorest family in that parish, regardless of caste or creed. But after three years only two or three houses had been built. The Archbishop Mar Gregorios of Trivandrum called for a 'post-mortem' seminar to find out the reason for this failure. The explanation given by all was simple enough—: there was no longer any such thing as an 'inexpensive building'! I begged to disagree and offered to demonstrate, rather than to talk about ways of building inexpensive houses and spent the following two weeks putting up a small house of about forty square metres and costing, by request, less than Rs 3,000 (about US $400 at the time). The participants of the conference came to see the result of this demonstration and to our amazement declared the house to be 'too good' for 'the poor'. So the Archbishop asked for a second house to be put up for half the cost!

To continue reading to the next section "Settling Down Finally: Trivandrum" click here