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The last Quaker in India


Baker's life and work reflect his "rigorous Quaker upbringing, with its
emphasis on simplicity and austerity... "
Baker is best known for the thousands of buildings he built in Kerala,
among them houses, anganwadis, churches, and at least one fishing
village. He also designed the Centre for Development Studies in
Thiruvananthapuram, where (owing to the artfulness of Baker's designs)
the costs were actually much less than budgeted — allowing the Centre to
build a world-class library with the money saved. Before he moved to
Kerala, Baker had lived in the Kumaon hills, where he helped his
doctor-wife run a hospital for the hill villagers.

When Baker first came out to India in 1945, he met Mahatma Gandhi, in a
chance encounter which (to quote his biographer) "seems to have made a
great impact on his architecture, as Gandhi's ideologies were to
influence him in all his life". It was surely the Gandhian in him that
moved him to write what was the first critical article to appear after
the atomic tests of May 1998. Immediately after the tests, the
commentary in the newspapers was uniformly eulogistic. Politicians
strutted about in Parliament, and scientists posed for photographs
dressed in military attire. The first note of dissent was struck by
Baker. In a brilliant, brief article, he pointed out that the Father of
the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had asked of Indian scientists that their
work be non-violent, that it be environmentally benign, and that it
enhance the welfare and happiness of the poor.

The atom bomb, Indian or otherwise, fails these three tests of a
Gandhian science. By those same criteria, the science practiced by the
last Quaker in India comes out with flying colours.