The idea of a human-headed animal has been prevalent since the Neolithic age and had been enshrined within religious beliefs.
Today, either by myth or by belief, human-like animals are a known feature for entertainment. In the sub-continent, the circuses would feature these figures for play and enthusiasts would gather around, which definitely relieved the commercial markets in abundance.
Founder of the zoo, AA Quraishy told The Express Tribune, that in 1954 a few people from the circus introduced the idea and offered it to be merged within the set-up of the zoo. He declined the offer repeatedly believing that “zoo should have facts not fantasies”.
However, the “sycophants” played their charm well and secured a place, which does not directly come under the zoo administration. This contract-based facility is leased out to different people and the main performer imitating Mumtaz Begum also keeps changing - four to five have already been changed.
Initially, the tickets cost only Rs5 but the prices have gone up to Rs10 for every person who visits Mumtaz Begum for a few minutes. The contractors manage a significant profit of Rs200,000, so they pay the zoo authorities Rs1.4 million a year. The team - including the supervisor, two helper boys, a host and the performer - manage to pull nearly 500 people on an average, while on Sundays the number rises to a 1,000.
Usman, the supervisor, said that choosing the right person to perform is entirely dependent on how talented he is - how many languages he knows and how well he can act like a kitsune. “It does not really matter if it is a woman, a man or a eunuch,” he explained, adding that it is usually men who take the job because they respond better to those who harass Mumtaz begum.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2013.