For more than 40 years this Barnum-inspired half-fox, half-woman has been telling fortunes from her cage in a Pakistani zoo.
Resting in a tatty pavilion known as the Mumtaz Mahal (Mumtaz Palace) is a creature by the name of Mumtaz Begum, a lounging fox with the head of a woman who can see the future and provide advice.
In reality, Mumtaz Begum is neither a fox nor a woman, but is actually played by the performer Murad Ali, a man who inherited the role from his father who had previously portrayed the supernatural attraction. Each day Ali cakes his face with a thick layer of makeup and bright red lipstick and crawls into the box beneath Mumtaz’s cage, popping his head through a hole in the top to make it look as though his head is attached to a lounging fox carcass. A shawl is placed around Ali’s head to hide the connection and then the visitors begin filtering in.
The creature that Ali plays is known as a kitsune, which is said to be able to see the future. Children and adults alike come to the zoo to ask Mumtaz Begum about everything from exam results to visa approvals. Ali gamely provides advise and peppers the interaction with references to his mysterious origin and his diet of juice and cakes.
Visitors coming to see Mumtaz Begum often leave small donations and cake and juice like supplicants to a charlatan prophet. However in true huckster fashion, anyone wishing to speak with the kitsune will need to pony up for a special ticket into the Mumtaz Mahal itself.
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