Ear cleaners on the cusp of extinction

Aural Concerns

On the streets of Old Delhi, you may often come across men coiffed in thin red caps, carrying a box of sharp tools with the tips padded by a wad of cotton.

Popularly known as kaan maeliye, these ear cleaners used to be a familiar sight, especially during the bygone days. Over the years, the profession has witnessed a steady decline and the ‘desi ear cleaners’ are now virtually on the cusp of extinction.Ear cleaners basically carry two kinds of instruments: A chimti (tweezer) and a salai (thick needle). While the former is used to remove the wax and flakes out of the ears, the latter is a tool for cleaning and applying oil.

“I have been in this profession for the last 30 years and manage to earn Rs 200 - 250 a day now, sometimes even less than that. This is life, you have to live with what you have,” said Mohammad Yasin, a 64-year-old ear cleaner. “Times have now changed. People are turning to doctors for ear cleaning or do it themselves with cotton buds. It has become very difficult to survive,” he added ruefully.

Spread across popular spots in Old Delhi, these ear-cleaners claim that they clean it in such a perfect way that would challenge the expertise of even a skilled doctor.“We remove the ear wax and flakes very skilfully and then apply mustard oil after the cleansing process. It gives people a sense of relief and satisfaction,” said Abbas Mushtaq, another ear cleaner who was handed down this profession by his father.

Refuting claims of it being unsafe, these ear cleaners have found support among some of their loyal customers. “Despite taking bath regularly, I never knew that so much dirt could come out of my ear. I get my ears cleaned regularly once a month from these people. And I have never felt any sort of uneasiness while doing so. Once done you can hear even distant noises very clearly,” said Abu Rehman, a local customer. “If they were unsafe or any harm was done, we would not have made them stay here,” he added.

Despite carrying out a family profession, many ear- cleaners do not want their children to continue in the same line. “There is nothing in this profession. No respect, no proper income and daily struggles to make a living. I want my son to study and fetch a good salaried job,” said one of the ear-cleaners.

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