Dom Joly: A holy parrot told my fortune

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The Independent Online

My arrival in Bombay... sorry Mumbai. When was that meeting held about changing the name, and why wasn't I present? Must be something to do with ducks. Peking has gone the same way, but I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, my arrival in Mumbai on an elephant. It was bedecked in swastikas, while I sweltered in the 40C heat in full period Raj mufti. I'm not really sure why. I think I'd thought it would be funny when I was back in London and a little tipsy.

The swastika is a Hindu symbol for good luck, so the elephant - whom we'd named Hermann - was exonerated of any war crimes, but the whole scene was still very peculiar. As the cameras rolled, Hermann staggered down the hot streets towards our destination, the Gateway of India, an imposing colonial arch on the Mumbai waterfront. As we made our steady progress onwards, an enormous mass of humanity started to assemble around Hermann, making things very difficult for him. Things got worse. As we rounded the final corner, we found ourselves in the middle of a Bollywood film shoot. It involved a hundred dancers, two bright-orange cars and a man dressed as an elephant.

This upset Hermann, who ploughed on into the middle of the dancers while our respective camera crews shouted at each other about who was in whose shot. Hermann was gloriously oblivious to all the fuss and we made it through the dancers, forcing the Bollywood director to jump out of his chair, only to watch it get trampled. He hurled insults and his hat at us, but we moved on majestically. Five minutes later, accompanied by most of Mumbai, Hermann arrived in front of the Gateway of India. We disembarked and wandered into the über-luxurious Taj Hotel, only to find the entire Australian cricket team in the lobby. Just another weird day in Mumbai.

There's a real technique to filming over here. Crowds assemble around you within minutes of a camera being set up, rendering filming impossible. We either have to shoot everything in quick bursts, or use elaborate decoys. When we're about to shoot, we get an unfortunate assistant producer to dress up as a tiger or a penguin and run around shouting nonsense some distance from us. The crowds are invariably drawn to this like moths to a light, and we can get a reasonable amount done before they twig.

You need a certificate wherever you film and these cost 10 times the actual price as everyone demands more and more "goose" (as bribes are called). We try to wing it, but this is dangerous as little boys rush off to find a cop who will pay them a few rupees for finding him some lucrative foreigners to sting. We were filming on Juhu beach and put a look-out on the terrace of a nearby hotel. He saw a kid spot us and run off to alert the Mumbai Baywatch Police. By the time they'd got on their motorbikes and roared down the beach towards us, we'd scampered away.

It's not all bad out here. In the religious centre of Nasik, I had my fortune read by a holy parrot. The parrot opens the door of his cage, waddles out and selects four cards that his handler uses to tell your fortune. He guessed correctly that I had three siblings, two children, that the most important person in my life had the initials SRJ (which happen to be those of my wife). He also added that I would be very rich and live to the age of 95. This was an impressive parrot and I was quite shaken. I asked him if my golf would ever improve, but he gave me a parrotish glare that suggested he wasn't here for that sort of tomfoolery.

I thought of Hermann when I read in the Times of India this morning that drunken elephants had ransacked a village in the north. Apparently their parents had been killed by poachers and they'd broken into a brewery, got drunk and gone on the rampage. The paper said that they were drinking to forget, but I thought that elephants never forgot.

I love this country - I'm off to Goa tomorrow to annoy the hippies, can't wait.

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