Sometimes, cotton swabs and pinkie fingers just aren’t enough. I’d noticed over the last month or so that my hearing was getting a bit weak. Tired of responding to everyone I met with “What?”, I decided it was time to seek professional help. I found it, at last, at a popular tourist gathering spot in Rishikesh, overlooking the Ganges River.
I knew this guy was a professional because he had a small wooden toolbox with the phrase “EAR CLEANER” emblazoned on its side — you don’t get more pro than that. He sat me down on a bench and pulled a long brass pick out of his pocket but before he started, I insisted that we agree on a price. He asked for 100 rupees but I knew that most personal services like this –shaving, shoeshines, and such– rarely cost more than twenty. We bantered back and forth for a moment before we settled on fifty ($1.25 US), with the agreement that I’d get to take a few photos after he was done.
Tugging on my left ear and peering inside, his first words were “Oh my God… oh my God…” Apparently, things weren’t very pretty in there. He poked about carefully with the pick, pulling out one chunk of dried ear wax after another. He’d show me each bit before wiping it on the back of his hand. By the end of the session, he would have enough material to wax a Buick. I’m just glad he didn’t charge by the pound.
He continued muttering “oh my God” over and over as if it were a mantra, then changed to “Very dry. Very bad…” and the sales pitch began. He’d found a large nugget that –he claimed– wouldn’t come loose without ‘medicine’. Opening his box, he pulled out a small screw-top vial of golden oil and wafted it under my nose — it smelled like eucalyptus.
“Very good medicine,” he explained. “From Germany. Only 500 rupees.”
I made sure the pick was far from my ear before allowing myself to laugh. “Not gonna happen, my friend.” The haggling began in earnest then and we went back and forth for several minutes before he agreed to another fifty for the ‘medicine’. Just as he went to pour the oil, my travel instincts kicked in: “Fifty total. Both ears.”
This, of course, was not what he had in mind and led to yet more haggling before he finally relented and agreed to a total of 100 rupees for the whole job — 50 for the cleaning and 50 for the oil. By now a large crowd had gathered to watch the show, standing around discussing, I suppose, what the inside of a foreigner’s ear looks like. They’re pretty hard-up for entertainment in these parts.
He carefully placed a few drops in my ear, placed his thumb over my ear canal and then shook my head like a maraca. Reaching in with a pair of long-handled tweezers, he pulled out a sticky glob the size of a gumball — if it had been any larger, it would have been a roadside attraction, like those balls of twine you find in the Midwest. Now it was my turn: “Oh my God…”
After probing around a bit more, he tore a small piece of cotton from a wad he had stuffed under his hat and wiped the oil from my ear canal. The right ear got the same treatment, though thankfully there was no more haggling. I hung around a bit afterward to take photos and see what he charged the locals: forty rupees total, including ‘medicine’. So I paid over double, as usual, but ended up with some decent photos and a fun story.
Best of all, I can hear again. Well enough, at least, to hear him muttering in the ear of his next patient: “Oh my God, oh my God…”