There is no margin for error.
Aman’s eyes are focussed as his hands edge the slim needle
into his customer’s ear. The needle has a tip of rolled cotton to take the edge off the sharp point. Working slowly, he is careful not to scratch the skin or harm the eardrum. “Only the earwax has to be removed,” he reminds you.
He is speaking to PARI seated under the shade of a spreading peepul tree, a black bag of tools — a
(tweezers) and cotton beside him. Also in the bag is a bottle of medicinal oil made from
(herbs) which he says is his family’s secret formula for ear cleaning.
“Silaai se mael bahar nikalte hai or chimti se kheech lete hai
is used to clean the earwax and tweezers are for pulling the wax out of the ear canal].
The medicinal oil is only used when someone has developed a lump in the ear. “We don’t treat infections, but only remove earwax and any itchiness felt in the ears.” An itch may turn into an infection if people attempt to clean it roughly, thereby hurting the ear, he adds.
At 16, Aman learnt how to clean ears from his father, Vijay Singh. He says it’s his khandani kaam (family occupation) in Rampura of Rewari district, Haryana. Aman began by practising on his family. “For the first six months, we practise cleaning the ears of family members using silaai and chimti . When it is done right, without causing any injury or pain, we step outside our house to work,” he says.
Aman is the third generation of ear-cleaners in his family. When asked about his schooling, he says he never went to one and refers to himself as an
Paisa badi cheez nahi hai
Kisi ka kaan kharab nahi hona chahie
[Money is not that big a deal. What really matters is not causing any injury while doing our job],” he adds.
His first customers outside of his family were people in Gurgaon, Haryana, before moving to Delhi. At one time, Aman says, he could earn between Rs. 500-Rs. 700 a day, charging Rs. 50 per cleaning, “Now I barely make Rs. 200 a day.”
He leaves his house in Dr. Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi and walks four kilometres through congested traffic to reach Amba Cinema on Grand Trunk Road. Once there, Aman starts to scan the crowd for potential customers, especially among those who have come to watch the morning show. He says his red turban is the sign of a ear cleaner: “If we don’t wear it, how will people know that a ear cleaner is passing by?”
After almost an hour of waiting at Amba Cinema, Aman moves to the lanes of Kamla Nagar, about 10 minutes away, near Delhi University’s north campus. The market is milling with students, busy vendors and daily wage labourers waiting to be hired. To Aman, each person is a potential client so he asks around, “ Bhaiya, kaan saaf karaenge? Bas dekh lene dijiye [Brother, would you like to get your ears cleaned? Let me have a look at it only].”
They all turn him down.
He decides to go back to Amba Cinema as it’s now 12:45 p.m. and time for the second show to begin. He finally finds a customer.
During the pandemic, when work opportunities were especially slim, Aman started to sell garlic. “I used to reach the nearest mandi [wholesale market] by 7:30 a.m. and buy garlic for Rs. 1,000 or Rs. 35-40 a kilo which I sold for Rs. 50 a kilo. I was able to save around Rs. 250-Rs. 300 a day,” says.
But now Aman has no interest in going back to selling garlic as he says, it is a lot of hard work, “I had to go to the mandi every morning, buy garlic, bring it back home and then clean it. I would get home as late as 8 p.m." As a ear cleaner, however, he is back home by 6p.m.
Five years ago, when Aman had moved to Delhi, he rented a home for Rs. 3,500 near Banda Bahadur Marg Depot in Dr. Mukherjee Nagar. He still lives here with his wife Heena Singh, 31, and their three sons, all under the age of 10: Negi, Daksh and Suhan. His older sons study in a government school and their father hopes that once they graduate they get jobs as salesmen, not ear cleaners because, “ Is kaam mein koi value nahi hai. Na aadmi ki, na kaam ki. Income bhi nahi hai [There is no respect in this profession, neither for the person nor the work].”
“In the lanes of Kamla Nagar Market [Delhi], there are all classes of people. When I ask them [if they need their ears cleaned], they respond saying they will get COVID
Then they say they will visit a doctor if they need to,” says Aman.
“What can I tell them then? I say, ‘It is okay, don’t get your ears cleaned’.”
In December 2022, Aman met with an accident where he was hit by a bike in Azadpur, Delhi. This left him with injuries on his face and hands. His right thumb was injured badly, making it very difficult for him to clean ears.
Fortunately, the medication for the injuries have helped. He cleans ears on occasion but has started playing the
at functions in Delhi for a more stable income, charging Rs. 500 per session. Aman and Heena also had a baby girl a month ago and he says he will need to find more work to support his family.