Mumtaz was born to Iranian parents. Her mother Sardar Begum Habib Agha came from a moneyed family, but married the middle class Abdul Sameed Askari who sold dry fruits in Mumbai. They had two daughters – Mumtaz, the younger one was born on July 31, 1947. But the marriage didn’t last and Mumtaz’s parents separated soon after her first birthday. Little Mumtaz soon had two families – her parents remarried, and she had two stepbrothers. In fact, Mumtaz and Ali (her stepbrother in Hyderabad) resemble each other – having inherited their looks and upturned noses from their paternal grandmother.
Circa September 2000, it all began with a lump, which turned out to be malignant. But Mumtaz always had the courage to face the truth. So it was not tears, but a quite determination with which she helped her daughters deal with her illness. “I told them to accept it. What happens to others can happen to us as well,” she says. Natasha, Tanya and Mayur supported her in those trying times. She recalls, “Mayur thought I was a goner. It suddenly hit him that I could die. He has been wonderful and by my side all the time in hospital.
In the past year, Mumtaz has had to undergo three surgeries. Friends who visited her before she went for chemotherapy were amazed at her grit. Pamms, a friend, says, “She was so matter-of-fact, so accepting and so cool. She smiled and told us that she was prepared for the treatment and was well aware of the side effects like hair loss and bloating.”
As Mumtaz says, “Cancer, like any other major disease, is a setback in life, but it has to be dealt with.” And she carried on with life. She loves to cook and has always cooked for herself and the girls. “I don’t like cooks. My mother used to say that a woman who can’t cook is not a homemaker. I grew up with that mind set and find cooks to be a nuisance. Moreover, to arrange their food in a country like England is more of a problem than cooking,” she smiles.
For someone who always had soft hair draped around her shoulders, Mumtaz today has scanty hair after chemotherapy. “I feel naked with this crew cut like growth,” she says. But she is neither a hypocrite nor one to hide behind wigs. “I hate double standards and pretences,” she asserts, “Whatever is, is.” And it was Mayur who held her hand through this traumatic time. She had no eyebrows, no eyelashes and no hair. “I will never forget that he would hold me like a child and call me the most beautiful woman. I know what I must have looked like, but he made me feel beautiful,” she recalls.
But that was not all. Then came the thyroid problem, “The chemotherapy upset the gland and I bloated like a balloon. People would not recognise me,” says Mumtaz, But I am not the one to give up. Medicines, diet control and regular exercise are helping me get back into shape. I am not looking for excuses – pain, low feelings, nothing can keep me from respecting my body while I am alive. To keep my sanity, I am also staying away from hurt and people who cause it. A happy mind helps me in my motto to lead a beautiful life.”
A candid soul despite all the emotional and physical upheavals, she philosophises, “as you grow old, you realise nothing makes a difference. My life has been a open book. I am not ashamed of anything, so what is there to hide.”