In Loving Memory of Carmina
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Washington , DC
Songs have a powerful effect in keeping the memory alive of people who remain in our hearts though physically they may have departed. “The Last Farewell” - originally played by Kenya born British musical legend Roger Whittaker - has serenaded millions around the world as it brings beautiful memories alive.
The sweet lyrics of “The Last Farewell” trigger wonderful memories of a friend called Carmina, while outpouring abundant love. For instance, her friend Anne wrote: “There are so many things we all loved about Carmina – her spirit, her lust for life, her gregariousness, her style, her grace, her honesty and directness, her bravery, her vivacity, her curiosity, her dignity, her love of family, her strength and steely determination, her passion, her loyalty, her love and generosity for all of us lucky enough to know her so well - values that are hard to beat”.
Carmina was born on 7 November 1940 in a village near Zaragoza , Spain . She hailed from a prosperous farming family, came to England in 1962 to learn English and stayed at a convent in Central London. After classes, she volunteered - under a program organized by the Spanish Embassy - to meet Spanish immigrants at Victoria Station, London as most were abroad for the first time and did not speak English. She was also one of the students who helped Paul Robeson, the American opera singer at The Priory, a rehabilitation facility in London. Such activities in early life made resourcefulness, tenacity and helping others the defining characteristics of Carmina’s personality.
A chance meeting at the famous Hampton Court Gardens with a young Pakistani Tariq Mumtaz - son of a Foreign Service officer who helped set up Pakistani embassies in Rome (1950-52) and Damascus (1955-56) - led to a courtship. Carmina became a Muslim before the marriage in 1964. The 43 years of successful marriage were full of adventure, travel and joys which began with the birth of Saeed their son in 1966. That same year, the young couple got a chance to attend a private Christmas evening function at the Buckingham Palace where they saw the Queen and Prince Philip in a relaxed unofficial setting.
As a skilled Fashion Designer, Carmina worked at Fontana - a famous Italian shop - for more than five years and helped dress many women VIPs of the time, including Mia Farrow. As a community activist, Carmina helped the Muslim Women’s Association at Regents Park Mosque during 1965-1970 and the Ealing Muslim community during 1970 – 1973, which included running a Saturday morning Islam class for children. She also organized Milad-un-Nabi celebrations at Ealing during these years.
The couple moved to Badajoz, Spain in 1973, when Tariq accepted an executive job with a British multinational corporation BOC. When an Australian professor working on a UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) project was in need for an interpreter to train Spanish agriculture engineers, Carmina’s skill and intellectual dexterity helped the UN FAO project succeed. While Tariq continued to succeed in his professional career, Carmina helped raise their son while also launching a very successful wholesale fashion business and sold her clothes through boutiques in various cities in Spain.
Also an avid sportswoman, she played tennis matches in the local league whilst encouraging people to start businesses. One lawyer neighbor started a tennis clothes business with Carmina designing and making the first collection for free. A woman civil engineer friend left her job and became a contract supplier of curtains for railway carriages to Renfe, the Spanish trains company with Carmina’s help, again given free.
With successive promotions for Tariq within BOC, they moved back to London in 1984, to live in Surrey not far from Hampton Court where they first met. In 1987, she opened her own boutique with the brand name “Carmina”, making and selling her own designs. She ran this business successfully for 14 years and retired in 2001.
After retirement, Carmina found work at the conservation studios of Hampton Court where she advised the expert team on restoration of historical antique dresses. She also made an ‘archive’ copy of the Queen Mother’s wedding dress in case the original became damaged as there had been fires at the Royal Palaces.
In January 2004, she was diagnosed with advanced endometrial cancer without any prior sign of illness and having led a healthy active life. Despite years of grueling treatments, her personality remained vibrant. She participated in experimental clinical trials so as to help ‘humanity’.
At a lunch with Tariq and the rest of the family in 2006, Carmina’s spirit still seemed invincible and the whole staff at the La Terraza restaurant, in a London suburb, seemed to love her “more dearly than the spoken word can tell”.
Carmina passed away peacefully on December 23, 2007. On a recent London visit when I was walking on Hersham Road near the closed restaurant late one night, one could still feel her presence. At Madrid Airport in 1982 I had seen her manage stranded total strangers from Pakistan and Africa to be allowed into the country without visas so they could attend the opening of an Ahmadi mosque in Spain. “In this post 9/11 and post 7/7 world, would Carmina still come to assist the stranded, the dispossessed or those for whom the Sun doesn’t shine?” came a question in the silence of the night. “In a heart beat!” - came a reply rising above the stormy seas from Carmina’s grave in Zaragoza , Spain.