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Letter from Murray and Mary Rogers and Heather Sandeman.

Note: This piece gives some insight into the Baker's lives in the Himalayan period and also provides a more personal, informal and intimate account of life with the Bakers


I suppose that it was about 1953 that it all began for us. Somebody told us in the village outside Barielly, that there were a couple of Quakers who had arrived in the nearby Clara Swain Hospital, from the hills. Would I perhaps be able to go and see them? I did, and more happened down the years ahead than I could have imagined then!

They were at that time living in Pithoragarh in the Himalayas, a stone's throw from Nepal, on top of a mountain, where Laurie with the help of the people around had built the most intriguing home cum hospital with a stupendous view of some 400 miles of the highest peaks in the world. Mary and I, Cheryl, Linda and Richard went to spend some time there out of the heat. We in the plains had just been given 5 '/2 Acres of land in a broken down old mango orchard where, we needed by hook or by crook, to put up an ahshram as the centre of our life, and some extremely simple huts, and a cattle shed. They needed to be simple because we had very little money, and for reasons that followers of Gandhiji can very well understand, we had no intention of even trying to collect money from abroad.


We hadn't realised it then, but we had landed among the right friends at the right moment. Staying in Mithranikethan (House of Friends) the name of their fascinating hospital, it hardly needed any brilliance on our side to wonder whether Laurie (with his architectural skill and determination to serve the poor and the ordinary people of India) would help us with plans for the land and building of the ashram in the village of Karela and Kargaina .Of course he did! It is no exaggeration to say that he is the only reason it was possible to build the ashram, given our constraints. With his architectural vision we too quickly saw that there is a great deal more to buildings than bricks and mortar and the ability to put up a wall that stays in place!

Laurie's buildings spoke, they articulated a vision, and they suggested a revolution. You can tell Laurie's work apart because it is designed to be a part of Nature, of the environment, of the trees and landscape that is already there. How exactly right they were, the ashram, first to be built, then the huts, the Gandhian loos and the shed. The shape of everything, the paths, Maun Kutir (The Silent hut), where the community building should be placed, and so much more were just right. The whole fitted our needsand our vision for our ashram life so perfectly.


At that time in Kareli village, they were two mistris (work men) bricklayers, who were ready to work, with Laurie to guide them and Fidah Hussain, our good multi-purpose Moslem friend to run errands. They already knew Laurie and I can see even now, their faces full of smiles, at the thought of his arrival for two weeks of work. For them he was 'Engineer Sahib'. Laurie himself worked with them when it came to rounded walls, a completely new idea to the village builders. His work and example were essential. The same went with what he called "holey walls" (jalis), a style new I believe in those far off days,

Everybody at work, the locals, us, students, visitors, village friends, was equally enthused by Laurie's presence and work, not to mention his humour, which was never hidden for long! Often visitors to the ashram would be so taken by Laurie's magnetic personality and jovial nature that they would also end up being guests with the Bakers up in their home in the mountains. One such friend was the traditional Roman Catholic priest and monk Swami Abhishiktananda (Dom Le Saux). The Bakers, our Quaker friends; were a new variety of Christian people whom he had never met before .The experience there, was reported back to us on his return to the plains. He was amazed and theologically changed beyond imagination. He asked himself, how Quakers like the Bakers, with no sacraments, no prayer books, with no proper Christian pedigree, were more genuinely Christian, than most Catholics, he had ever met? Some friendships make a mark that never passes. This was undoubtedly the case for this French Benedictine monk who later became a Swami, and a Sadhu.


By saying, that Laurie is a member of the Society of Friends, I reckon that you have located him, a little as a Christian, but not really! He fits nowhere and everywhere. He does not allow denominations or for that matter, religion, to get in any sort of way with friendship. It was once said that Jesus promised his followers three things:

To be absurdly happy, this does not exclude suffering and tears

To be entirely fearless and

To be always in trouble

—That is Laurie's and Kuni's (Elizabeth) form of Christianity, it doesn't need too often to be talked about, provided you live it, and they did! Seeing that Jesus himself was not a Christian, they are not keen on being labeled either.


Gandhiji, once on his weekly silent day, when asked for a message for a newspaper responded – "my life is my-message". That to my mind expresses the freedom and joy and madness of our friend Laurie. Those three marks of Jesus are so appealing that you can't keep the word fun out of the description for long. More seriously, but as genuinely, the suffering, grieving person could always rely on the good and compassionate hearts of Laurie and Kuni.


Another of those unforgettable moments is when I needed an operation on my behind! Kuni with her skill as a surgeon came prepared to operate. Laurie as usual, passed her instruments, a local anesthetic did the necessary. My legs were up in the air, on a homemade first-rate medical contraption to keep me in place. Kuni went ahead and Laurie accompanied the surgery with uproarious jokes, suitable and unsuitable, when suddenly Kuni exploded, "Really Laurie! — Stop joking, I can't operate on Murray when he is shaking with laughter!". That quieted Laurie temporarily. Operation over, Laurie piggy-backed me back to my bed, as he did all the patients operated on by Kuni because no three yards of the floor of the hospital was on the same level. After all, it was built on the peak of a small mountain!

How like Kuni it was, at the end of their time in Pithoragarh to say, "Laurie was behind me in my medical world. Now I want him to get back to architecture again". And my word, he did! With work that speaks of his extraordinary imagination and skill up and down the country, with so much of it being the use of skill for happiness and comfort of the most poor and the most down trodden. Whether it is cathedrals or fishermen's houses, they have that glorious Laurie touch which speaks of the most human of human beings.


One last memory, more recent than the rest, Mary's and my grandson James, (a member of Cheryl and Andre's family is in France) visited Kerala in the summer of 2000, with Laurence his girl friend. How could I resist, introducing them to Laurie and Kuni from afar, hoping so much, as Mary and I did, that they might be able to welcome the young couple. They did and from James and Laurence accounts on return to Europe, we heard how their time with this glorious unexpected couple of human beings was a revelation of generosity and wisdom, of laughter and compassion. So joyfully the circle of endless friendship continues. We men and women, far too often be swallowed up in violence and brutality but when by some marvelous stroke of good fortune, you meet real human beings like Laurie and Kuni in India, you know that it is still wonderfully good to be alive.