Anil and his charming wife Neena have been my friends since 1985. The story of how we became friends and some information about the two of them will shortly follow in a separate blog. They are remarkable people who faced and overcame many difficulties to make a great life for themselves in retirement and I am privileged to call them my friends. The internet played a vital part in bringing us back together after a break and that too will form part of my next blog post on them. I have not been to his Delhi home yet and hope to do so at the earliest.
This is a guest post that I requested Anil to write about his unique home in Delhi. He has obliged and I hope that my readers will find it as interesting as I did.
“We are delighted to read your blog and about your proposed visit to Delhi to meet friends, Neena & I included. Ramana, you will be able to see our Laurie Baker home and why we built it his way.
“As a subaltern, I once traveled with Mr. Laurie Baker by train, a journey that took us both the best part of a day. Much of what Mr. Baker told me that day 60 years ago has stayed with me. He told me that India’s Independence coincided with him graduating in architecture in England. Besides, back home he had been intrigued by the non-violent methods of Mahatma Gandhi to gain India freedom. Young Laurie Baker decided to come and meet Mahatma Gandhi and so he soon arrived in Bombay. The Mahatma told him that India’s need of the hour was housing and urged him to stay back and help him build cost effective homes for the vast multitude.
“Mr. Laurie Baker stayed back and did just that. Today his footprints exist all over India. To reduce costs he advocated use of local stone, waste and re-cycled material. He trained masons in the art of laying bricks his way and also to make strong bricks. He set up training centers that today are named after him. These centers and masons spread his gospel in rural areas. He instilled hope amongst Indians who always found themselves far behind the advancing price line of a house. Owning a house was impossible. Laurie Baker made housing possible for people to own a home some day. We are one such blessed couple among millions who benefited.
“Mr. Laurie Baker homes can be made out of mud mixed with lime, bricks and mortar or any waste that could be bound together by mud and lime. In the hills he used locally mined slate. Later he devised a method of brick-laying called Rat Trap Bond, saving 20% bricks, while simultaneously creating two parallel walls with four inches gap between them. This gap provided insulation, keeping the heat out in Indian summers and heat in during winters. Such homes have exposed brickwork surface and has no cement plaster over the bricks, thus saving considerable finishing costs. Use of steel in homes was hardly ever considered by Mr. Baker, and he substituted this need with bamboo or trunks of trees. In Kerala and coastal areas he even used coconut tree trunks for columns and leaves for thatched roofs.
“He often quipped “I only build homes and not houses”. For an impatient and persistent client in Kerala he even designed home on a torn unprinted side of a cigarette pack! Mr. Baker insisted on getting to know his clients and their life styles, on occasions taking over two years just for the design. Rarely did the client ever realize Mr. Baker’s time delay was only to save the exasperated man precious costs.
“Today we live in a home based on his principles, designed by our daughter Anisha, Neena & me, and put together by a group of masons under our watchful eyes. Our brick foundation is strong since our three pet dogs unfailingly raised their legs on very column every morning and their contribution cannot be ignored.
“There is no steel in the Funicular Roof, a delicate convex roof that rests only at four corners, put together lovingly and painstakingly by the masons. Our friends predicted this simply would not work. Its 12 years since the roof was put in place and it hasn’t fallen over our heads yet!
“Mr. Laurie Baker put his roots down in Kerala where he continued to build cost effective homes for the poor until his last day. At his Requiem Mass in Delhi we were fortunate to reach in good time. For those who came later there was no space even to stand. Every inch in the large hall had been occupied by people grateful to Mr. Laurie Baker who made one single dream of every Indian to own a home come true.”
Here are some photographs to show the details.