The origins of the name of Roshnai Gate threw up a lot of interest with readers ‘propounding’ new theories, some fairly bizarre. Alongside this, an even bigger interest seems to have emerged over the name of Mochi Gate. So might as well in this column pontificate a wee bit.

A bit of history is always important, especially the time before the Mughal emperor Akbar expanded old Lahore outwardly. The old and original walls of old Lahore ran alongside the western portion of today’s Shahalami Bazaar. There it curled to the west and joined the western wall, which ran alongside Bhati Bazaar’s eastern side. The two met just where today Paniwala Talaab is located. This means that Rang Mahal and the grave of Mahmud’s Georgian slave Ayaz were not in the original old city. This also means that Mochi Gate did not exist. So where did the name come from ?

Mochi Gate was built when Akbar, the Mughal ruler, had shifted his capital to Lahore in 1585. He again changed his capital in 1599. So in the 14 years he was in Lahore he rebuilt the Lahore Fort and the new Walled City in burnt bricks. When exactly is not hard to determine. Lahore faced a terrible three-year famine from 1586 to 1589 and it was in this period that Mochi Gate came about. Mind you the emperor used 25,000 starving inhabitants around Lahore as free labour in return for two meals a day. So it is fair to say that Mochi Gate is approximately 435 years old as are other gateways built in that period.

Now we tackle the problem of its name. When Akbar arrived in Lahore the eastern portion had the River Ravi curling around it. Between the old wall and the river was a fairly open field which provided potential invaders with the chance of scaling the not very high walls after hiding in the greenery between the wall and the river.

This had prompted earlier rulers to build a huge long ditch to the west of the river so that attackers could be met away from the wall. This was called the ‘Lahore Morcha’. We see this mentioned in a number of descriptions of old battles. In the Persian language a ‘morchi’ is the name of the trench soldier. This adds up to the fact that the rulers of Lahore preferred that their foot soldiers were posted outside the city, just as infantry soldiers all over the world are housed away from the main headquarters. So the probability that the original name of Mochi Gate was ‘Morchi Gate’ is very high.

Once the wall was made and the outer ‘rahra maidan’ became part of the expanded brick-walled city, we see a number of developments. First was the fact that Akbar was expanding his empire by agreeing to peace pacts with a number of hostile power centres, among them the Bhat Rajputs surrounding Lahore and the fierce Qizilbash cavalry forces of Kabul. The origins of these Qizilbash, or the ‘red heads’ as their name means in Turkish, were originally the Muslim Cossack who had moved as conquerors to Afghanistan from Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. As the Mughals ruled Kabul so these cavalry forces were much needed by them to stabilise their rule in the sub-continent.

In the expanded Lahore the Qizilbash were given a large chunk of land in the new ‘Morchi Gate’ area, while the Bhat Rajputs were given a major portion of the Bhati Gate area. Hence Bhati means ‘of the Bhats’. So the inhabitants of both these areas are, even today, culturally slightly different people. Matters surely have slightly evened out over time. So once settled in these cavalrymen brought with them their trades needed by their profession. You have to walk through the streets of Mochi Gate to appreciate the flow of history, which for the curious can be an enthralling pastime on a day off. The trick is to discover the origin of the names, things, places and faces that you come across.

For example you have Kucha Chabakswaran – the precinct of the horse riders - deep inside Mochi Gate, a place where my father was born and our ancestors lived for hundreds of years, as did the famous Almakky family, the journalist Abdullah Malik’s family, the artist Chughtai’s family, as also the family of the journalist Zafar Iqbal Mirza, affectionately known as Lord Zim. Here we had heard stories of horses and carriages being parked in the ‘havelis’ of this area.

To service the professional needs of these cavalry riders of old a number of services, naturally, propped up. For example there is a Mohallah Teergaran – the lane of the arrow-makers – or there is a Mohallah Kamangaran – the lane of the bow makers – or the Kucha Hanasazan – the precinct of the saddle makers. An amusing name is Gali Lathmaran – the lane of the club makers. The list is endless and all the names are related to these famous cavalrymen.

Here we cannot ignore the fact that most of the professions related to these cavalrymen used leather. Hence the name ‘Mochi’ – or cobbler – has considerable credence. My own take is that this is the most likely continuation of the ‘morchi’ name. An understanding of Mochi Gate’s Punjabi slang is to blame for this pronunciation puzzle. But more on this later.

It would be in place to mention that these men from Central Asia were invariably of the Shia sect, and hence even today this area is central to their annual rituals, with famous havelis existing in the main Chowk Nawab Sahib, the respectful name for the nawabs of the Qizilbash family.

Amazingly these people brought a new cuisine to old Lahore, with kebabs and sweets being among them. Even today the main bazaar, known as Mochi Gate Bazaar, has an array of ‘methai’ shops, and at the end an amazing ‘khatai’ concern. They have evolved into legendary outlets. But let us return to the name Mochi Gate.

We have described the ‘morchi’ origin before the Qizilbash cavalrymen moved in. But if you understand Mochi Gate verbal parlance you will understand that Persian speaking people, whose language is still the home language of some old families, find pronouncing ‘morchi’ a wee bit difficult as the ‘r’ in the Persian language ‘ray’ is spoken often silently, or used in a soft manner at the end of a word. So it makes sense that the word ‘morchi’ was spoken as ‘mocche’, or in modern usage as ‘mochi’. That is an interesting aspect of the modern usage.

But then there is this legend, which seems difficult to substantiate, that in Mughal rule the main gatekeeper who opened and shut the gateway, and its forgotten drawbridge, was called Moti Ram. I remember my father telling me about the wooden drawbridge which was removed in the late 1920s or early 1930s. So many people feel that the gate was called ‘Moti Gate’ after this gatekeeper. If Mochi Gate Punjabi is analysed you will find that the sound ‘t’ has a sort of ‘chee’ sound when used on the upper pallet. The move to ‘mochi’ would not be a far-fetched possibility.

So the origin of the name Mochi Gate has two main enticing possibilities. The ‘morchi’ origin which existed before Mughal Emperor Akbar came here seems the most probable, and given its use by Persian-speaking cavalrymen created the word ‘Mochi’. But equally enticing is the ‘mochi’, or cobbler’ origin, given the use of leather for these horsemen. In such matters logic and history are useful. But then let these riddles remain to add romance to this amazing place and its people.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018

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