Laurie Baker and I were alike in one important respect: our feelings about my mother's icecream. An old family story dates to when he came for dinner in Delhi. Afterwards, ma brought out a tray of her homemade mint icecream, pale green and delicious. Laurie had a spoonful and remarked, just as I always did: "Just like Colgate toothpaste!"
From me, at any rate, it was invariably a delighted compliment. (As a kid, as I'm sure you'll agree, there are few finer tastes in the world than Colgate toothpaste). From him, I don't know. But he downed his bowl of the green stuff anyway.
I never met Laurie Baker as an adult. But I would occasionally read about his innovative work with low-cost housing, wishing there were more architects who took that seriously. And I felt a connection to him for two reasons. (Well, three if you count the icecream).
One, I have spent many happy days in one of the homes he built in Trivandrum, "Vichitra". The coolness there in the heat of southern Kerala was a revelation.
Two, whenever the argument is made about people of "foreign birth" being unfit to rule this country because of their foreign birth, I think of people like Laurie Baker. (As also Verrier Elwin, Maxine Berntsen, Romulus Whitaker ...). To me, these are Indians every bit as Indian as any of us, regardless of being born abroad and not just because they got themselves little blue booklets that say "India" and carry the Ashoka pillar symbol. If knowing about and caring about India and Indians means anything, Laurie Baker was Indian all over.
Laurie Baker died on April 1, aged 90. You will be missed, sir. Wherever you are, I hope you're enjoying plenty of Colgate-flavoured icecream.