Something Old and Something Sweet!
Its become an almost everyday ritual now.Leaving the college cafeteria with its banal menu,and oh-so-crammed interior,I set out to explore eat-outs in Anarkali.
And while my friends always hate my random trips around the ancient alleys and are always trying to steer me off to the-good-old-al-karim,they don't always have their way.
And so,on one such trip, I stumbled across S.Mohkam&Sons. Nestled in a crook not far from the right-wing entrance to the Patiala Block,S.Mohkamuddin has a rich history(and some heavenly finger biscuits too) to share with any curious soul who decides to drop in.
Mohkam is probably the oldest modern bakery in Asia. Established in 1879 when the concept of cakes and biscuits was alien to the Indians who were more akin to such delights as 'ladoos' and 'peras',it managed to make a huge name in the subcontinent in a very short period.
These days the place is being managed by Messers Mohkam&Shajjar Naqvi,the grandsons of the founder of the bakery. I first met Mr Mohkam Naqvi last year. Warm and congenial,he was extremely forthcoming and welcoming. He looked delighted when I gushed out all I had ever read about his bakery.His smile was heart-felt as he explained in English,"You see this isn't just some random bakery. Its a piece of history preserved so painstakingly."
Recently,I spotted Mohkam Bakery decked in tinsel,holy and stars for Christmas. Like any other time I didn't hesitate before barging in on Mr Naqvi during one of his busiest seasons. He was gracious enough to welcome me with that ever-present smile of his. He was delighted when I mentioned my desire to write about Mohkam Bakers in the university blog,"Kemcolians have always been so fond of eating"he laughs,"I remember Dr Akhter (ex-principal KEMC) was a very regular visitor of ours in the 60s"
I am curious now,"And how would you rate Kemcolians?"
"Ah,Kemcolians are always so decent and mature. Its always a pleasure having them here!"
Like every other time,I am served with some of the finest cookies in the bakery and in spite of the unusual rush in the place, Mr Naqvi is kind enough to let me photograph the place and even agrees for a brief tete-a-tete.
The place is all set for another grand Christmas season. At the entrance is a grand Christmas tree and an adorable Santa.Ribbons,mistletoe and holy with countless little father-christmases hang from the ceiling. In one of the show-cases I find these beautiful chalk-toys,decoration pieces and even a birth-of-christ scene!
Some Of The Many Christmas Decorations At Mokam's!
It's little after noon and the smell of freshly baked cookies,raisins and currants is overpowering. The workers are quick to dutifully wipe anything I turn my camera towards.
Finally,done photographing,I sit in one of the two chairs at the Bakery and nibble at a finger biscuit. "I heard there's a story related to these cookies of yours?" I voice.
"Oh yes,very much so. They are named 'Lady Harrison's Fingers' due to a very funny incident that occurred in my grandfather's time",Mr Naqvi enthuses,"Mrs Harrison was a fine painter and a fast friend of my grandpa's. Every time she would drop in for coffee,she would jokingly ask my grandpa to bake cookies in the shape of those long,delicate fingers of hers. And my grandpa actually heeded to her jokes!"he laughs.
Now not many Punjabis coming here could speak English very well nor did they very much understood the story behind those cookies that had been an overnight success by the way,so they would come in and shout at my grandfather, "O Pajee Lady Harrison diyan ungalan deyo!"
And so,the name stuck,he chuckles.
He still has a potrait of his grandfather,Syed Mohkam Din hanging in his Bakery under the words"work hard!". "My grandpa was taught by Lady Aitchison(the wife of the then Punjab Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Aitchison,the celebrated founder of Aitchison College)herself,he tells me proudly,"we still have very friendly ties with the Aitchisons. A few years back,the granddaughter of Lord Aitchison visited our shop",he reminisces fondly.
Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a fast friend of my grandpa too,"he tells me in between directing his assistants to tend to the customers,"the two would sit on chorpoys outside of Mohkam and chat for hours about religion and philosophy. When Iqbal's Shikwa was published he got really upset by the reaction of the Muslim public,but even then,my grandpa supported him",his voice was heavy with emotion.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Qadiyani,the founder of Ahmdiyya religion was a regular visitor to our shop and so were Jawaharlal Nehru,Feroz Khan Noon,Mumtaz Daultana,Nawab of Junagarh and Sir Henry Lawrence.Famous literary bigwigs, educationists and politicians, Tufail Hoshiarpuri, Waqar Ambalwi, Muhamad Tufail (Former Editor “Naqoosh”), Agha Shorish Kashmiri, Maulana Kausar Niazi, Dr. Ghulam Mustafa Tabasum, Dr. Nazir Ahmed, Dr. Ajmal Khan and many others were among regular customers also"
The British elite were our most devoted customers as the common Indian could not afford to buy Baking goods in those days,"he is lost in thought and even the attendants are listening now. The customers look at us curiously. "Well times have most certainly changed in that respect,but even now,our old customers haven't moved away! We still bake for many foreign dignitaries,ambassadors and the like. The archbishop of Lahore,Mr Alexander John Malik is an old customer of ours too!"he gushes.
And for Kemcolians here's an interesting tidbit:Lala Dhani Ram,yes,the very same after whom they named that road on which Al-karim and that over-alls shop is located,was also a very regular visitor of Mohkamuddin!
"We have our very own delicacies,recipes that have been passed down for generations,we have this Rich Plum Cake,"he points to a beautifully iced white-and-gold cake,"customers have always loved it!" And sure enough I could see many handsomely dressed middle-aged men buying those Christmas cakes. Unfortunately,for me,those cakes were well beyond the average range of a dormer with a monthly staple of twenty-thousand!
"We have always had very special relations with the Harrison," he tells me,"We baked a very special cake for their son's birthday,a recipe we have never shared with anyone else,"he laughs,"and there was this time when Mr Bhutto was the foreign minister and my father,Syed Kush Bakht Husain,sticking to his reputation of baking enormous birthday cakes,baked a 200-lb cake to the foreign minister on the occasion of Ms Benazir Bhutto's Birthday!
And then,there was that time when the Shah of Iran visited Pakistan and my father baked a seven-storied 30-lb cake for him. We even baked a 1500-lb cake when Archbishop of Canterbury,Rowan Williams visited Pakistan in 2005!"he smiles with light in his eyes and there is this dreamy look in them that reflects his pride and joy in this place.
Mr Naqvi has a diploma in baking from Selford University,UK and his family resides in the UK. He was intrigued by my iPad,"I have a galxaxy note-two tablet but I like iPads better. I have asked my son to send me an iPad 5 from UK,"he tells me. We have a little chat about the specifications of each tablet and he seems very well informed for his age. I am acutely aware of his precious sales time so I ask him for any message that he would like to convey to the Kemcoilans.
He smiles his trademark smile,"Sweet wishes to all the Kemcolians. May you all have very prosperous careers ahead,but please do have some pity on the poor and try to prove the general misconception of doctors being mercenary wrong!"