Karachi zoo’s half human, half fox creature enthrals visitors see full video an pics

Mumtaz Mahal: A distinct creature encaged in zoo gallows for the past 45 years

Mumtaz Begum (top) is a regular feature at the Karachi Zoo and resides in the special pavilion (bottom). PHOTOS: EXPRESS
KARACHI: For the rest of the world, Mumtaz Mahal – the known epithet for a Mughal empress, Arjumand Banu – rests at a mausoleum signifying a lover’s fort in Agra. Karachi has, however, orchestrated its very own Mumtaz Mahal but the irony is that it is no love temple, yet it abodes in one of the city’s popular locations – the zoo.
In the most gaudy manner, the small temple-like structure at the zoo clearly imitates a Mughal fort with posters plastered over its walls of Mumtaz Mahal – a kitsune [half human, half fox]. Inside the special pavilion, a small creature over a cot-like table with a human face over a body of a fox aptly entertains zoo visitors.
Mumtaz Begum (top) is a regular feature at the Karachi Zoo and resides in the special pavilion (bottom). PHOTOS: EXPRESS
Former Gandhi Gardens, today the zoo has almost all animals caged, including chimpanzees, lions, tigers, elephants, stags and crocodiles but an encaged fox has yet to be seen. However, a fox-cum-human surely fits the phrase ‘beloved ornament of the palace’, which is the meaning for the title Mumtaz Mahal.
This mythical creature, depicting a thousand years of ideas about supernatural beings, promises to be different yet entertaining. After all, it is the only animal that can talk at the zoo. It looks like a princess with a bushy tail, but the naked truth is that it’s a dead fox that has the head of a man, dolled up like a woman.
People of all age groups enjoy the entertaining show, even if they know it is a trick-oriented one. “When I was young, we would get scared,” said an excited Zarish, 17, as she walked out of the pavilion. “Even if we knew it’s an optical illusion, it would still be entertaining and scary at times.”
Kamila, 52, said that Mumtaz begum never gets old. “It brings me back to all the memories from childhood, we would get spell-bound by her performance,” she recalled fondly. “I remember exactly the way Mumtaz would sound, the bright lipstick and  the cakey make-up and it is still the same.”
The experience
Entering the small crypt, the ‘maa-fauq-ul-fitrat’ [supernatural] goes on a narrative stead where she amusingly talked about how she hails from the savannas in Africa but is being kept in confinement, as she happily ate the cake, juices, biscuits and fruits. Mumtaz is a fortune-teller too. So a student instantly asked her about his visa status while a concerned mother wondered about her daughter’s proposal.
Once actor Adnan Siddiqui happened to be shooting at the zoo when the person impersonating Mumtaz begum asked for a picture with him, said zoo’s security in-charge, Sajid Husain.
His driver was so excited that God gave him an opportunity to meet her. Actress Resham and politician Sharmila Farooqi are also a few visitors Mumtaz loves to brag about.
Behind the scenes
Rahim Baksh Hero, a 52-year-old performer in various movies, has also served as Mumtaz Mahal for some time. “It is just like a drama,” he said, revealing trade secrets. “We prepare for it beforehand and put up the best show when the audiences visit.”
Murad, who is currently playing Mumtaz Begum, is in his late 20s. He lives at the zoo, said Usman, a superviser. “He wakes up at 6am for prayers and work-out and then gets to the ‘mahal’ at around 9,” he said. “He puts on make-up himself.” Usman admired how Murad earns his livelihood through this unique talent.
Not everyone is, however, happy with this feature at the zoo. “It is despicable and ignoble,” claimed AA Quraishy, the founder of the zoo. “The optical illusion is designed by showmen working for their livelihood and surely people with weak values are the ones who admire illusions they can’t comprehend.”
Pakistan’s foxy lady: ’Half-human, half-fox creature’ enthrals visitors to Karachi zoo with wit and fortune telling Mumtaz Begum has been an attraction at Karachi Zoo for 40 years She tells visitors their future as well as entertaining them with jokes The role of the creature is played by 33-year-old father-of-two Murad Ali Alongside Karachi Zoo’s enclosures for elephants and deer, hidden behind a curtain in an ornate pavilion, there is a creature the likes of which you won’t find in the wild. It is the home of Mumtaz Begum - a mythical half-fox, half-woman chimera - who has been the zoo’s top attraction for generations. From her languid repose inside a specially designed bed, she delights visitors on their days out to the zoo, in Pakistan’s commercial capital, with her wit and wisdom. The people, who visit here, go away happy. And knowing that they feel happy makes me happy too,’ Mumtaz told Reuters. ’There is a bond of love between me and them. Life is very short; it should be spent spreading smiles.’ In addition to witty conversation, Mumtaz is also known as a fortune-teller. Students come to her with questions about their examination results, while concerned mothers consult her about their daughters’ prospects for marriage. I feel very good. I had a nice talk with her. I am really happy. I’m happy I came here,’ said sixth grade student Mohammad Osama after meeting Mumtaz. For older people, Mumtaz takes them back to memories of their own from childhood encounters with the creature. ’I saw it during my childhood about 40 or 45 years ago. Mumtaz Mahal had arrived in Clifton (in a circus),’ said labourer Mohammad Ismail. ’Today I have come here along with my grand children. I really enjoyed it. It is good and has improved. I liked it more than in the past.’ Murad Ali, 33, is the man behind Mumtaz. He dresses as the woman with the body of a fox and gets into character for up to 12 hours a day. The father of two inherited the role from his father who died 16 years ago. Mohammad Fahim Khan, the zoo’s director, says Mumtaz became a permanent exhibit after a few people from a circus offered to set up the attraction there 40 years ago. She has always been played by men because they are able to respond better to those who harass her, says Mr Khan. Mr Khan said those who go under the veil and become Mumtaz are chosen for their talents, particularly how many local languages they can speak and how well they can act. ’Women and children especially are keenly interested in this character. They come here; they watch her and talk to her. This is an art. He is like an actor who plays this role and entertains the people,’ said Mr Khan. A ticket to see Mumtaz costs just Rs10 (0.10 U.S dollar) but the show still manages pay Mr Ali and couple of helpers, as well as turn a profit.
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