In a street song sequence in the 1975 Vinod Khanna starrer ‘Qaid’, Mehmood, the iconic comedian implores passers-by with his raucous call ‘Kara le saaf kara le’ (clean thy ears). Although this hilarious number raised a few giggles at that point of time, the traditional profession of ear-cleaning has definitely lost its sheen over the years.
Once patronised by the Mughals and the landed aristocracy, it has been reduced to a roadside service and is virtually on the verge of extinction. The advent of medicated and sophisticated cleaning techniques and equipment along with a growing consciousness for hygiene has already made a large dent in the daily earnings of the ear-cleaners, which in normal times ranged between Rs.150-200/-.
The prolonged Covid-induced shutdown and the attendant paranoia have dealt a deadly blow to this hereditary profession, posing question marks on its very survival. In the capital, these cleaners could earlier be spotted outside important metro junctions, railway stations, wholesale vegetable markets at Azadpur and Okhla, Palika Bazar, Connaught Place, Sarojini Nagar Market and the walled city, plying their unique trade among a motley crowd of snack vendors, cobblers, holy men and sellers of knick-knacks.
The sheltered sidewalks adjoining popular parks also proved ideal for plying their trade. A metallic clinking sound accompanied by an attractive call in a peculiar local accent would herald their arrival. Armed with a weather-worn satchel containing their various tools viz. tweezers, ear picks, vials of hydrogen peroxide, metallic sticks, wads of cotton, coconut oil, an ayurvedic potion, green towel etc., these cleaners could be distinguished by their red turbans, which has always been a prized symbol of their profession.
An exacting profession by any standard, the long and unending wait for clients has always been a sheer test of endurance. The ‘Kaano ka doctor’ or the ‘Kaan-melias’, as they are referred to in local lingo, had learnt to brave it out amidst the sweltering heat and the chilling cold in the capital. Generally patronised by the elderly, migrant labourers and construction workers, these practitioners of an age-old trade do not find any takers for their services among the upwardly mobile and the younger generation.
Abdul, a veteran of this trade for the last three decades, has a forlorn look on his face as he squats on a stool near the busy ticket counters at the ISBT, searching intently for clients among the throngs of people milling around the place. He bemoans the fact that with waning patronage and ever-dwindling income, this ear dewaxing profession may be at the end of its tether, staring at an uncertain future.
Drones are coming in a big way; thousands of food delivery boys are worried if the “flying machines” will take over their jobs.
(Contributed by: Deepak Razdan & Amit Banerjee)