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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Ear cleaner India.

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Cover photo courtesy of Meena Kadri. 

In March 2004 I was 25 years old. With not a care in the world, no particular place to be and zero commitments to speak of, I packed up a rucksack and headed off to India. The future lay sparkling and I thought it would last forever.

——

The warm glow of the early morning sunshine washed over Allan and I as we strolled through one of Delhi’s expansive public gardens. In contrast to the pig trough of Paharganj, this was really beautiful. A vast blanket of lush green dotted with colourful clusters of well-tended plants and flowers.

Moreover, the entire park was spotless. Not so much as a stray chocolate bar wrapper in evidence. Better still, it wasn’t at all crowded. Just pockets of whispering families picnicking on the grass and a silent, doe-eyed couple passing by hand in hand. Furthermore, on a nearby bench, a trio of moustachioed males munched on samosas whilst holding a passionate post-mortem on a recent cricket match. The whole scene felt as authentically Indian as I could have imagined. 

Rewind to the day of my frenetic arrival and I wouldn’t have believed an atmosphere such as this possible in New Delhi. Picking out an especially quiet corner of the grass, Allan and I began leafing through our guidebooks in the hope of forming a hit list for the day. After a while it was Allan who spoke: “The Lotus Temple isn’t far from here” he said, with an arched eyebrow.

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Lotus Temple Gardens New Delhi India.

Lotus Temple Gardens, New Delhi.

A few minutes later a head unexpectedly popped out from behind a nearby tree. “Yes please!” said the head cheerfully and, before we could respond, a man had emerged. In fact, he was now scuttling over and sitting next to us, busily unlocking a small wooden box.

He was a disheveled looking man with skin like cooked rubber and a sharp odour of curried spices. A mixture of flavours I couldn’t quite identify. “Yes please sir, let me show for free!” he proclaimed. But before I could object, he swiftly inserted a long wiry rod into my ear! 

Please no move, very dangerous!” he warned, gripping my arm.

Allan watched in mild amusement as the old man wiggled the rod. His face screwed up in concentration like some sort of deranged circus performer. All I could do was sit and fight the urge to jump up and push him away. To express my outrage at being violated in such a manner. But he had me by the ear, so to speak, and was clearly holding all the cards.

Hence I waited and… slowly but surely… the man inched the rod back out. “Please sir look!” he squealed, proudly shoving the evidence of his satisfaction in front of my skeptical eyes. There, at the end of the rod, was a clump of cotton wool home to a considerable mass of thick, gooey brown earwax. It was a filthy sight and yet, at the same time, I found myself fascinated by it. All the while the old man watched me intently, visibly pleased with my state of suspended horror.

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Short story Delhi India

“I am ear cleaner!” he claimed, puffing out his bony chest. “Ear is very dirty I best clean only one time needed ten year for you 400”. He said this seemingly without breathing. Regarding him blankly, I could see his eyes were wide, expectant and full of hope. Turning my attention back to the rod, I felt repulsed by the thought that I had another three or four scoops of this crap still in my ears. Quite possibly clogging up my brain.

Desperate to capitalise, the man produced a small notebook from within the box and enthusiastically pushed it into my hands. “Please look, many people liking good”. Allan and I tried to keep straight faces as we skimmed through the book’s mock entries, with their too-good-to-be-true references.

‘‘Devda is generally cleaning ear in the bost way’’ wrote someone claiming to be Andy from Windsor.

‘‘My ears never feeling so beautiful. In summary, a true profeshinal’’ stated Joe from Sydney.

‘‘Above all, Devda wash the ear like Celine Dion singing the ship song!’’

This last one, understandably anonymous, tipped Allan and I over the edge and we broke out into laughter. His eyes darting back and forth between us, the old man nodded, chuckling along with our hysterics. If nothing else, I certainly admired Devda’s determination to make his business a success. “Not 400” I told him firmly, “200!” There was a pause as he processed this information.

“300!”

“250?”

“275?” “

250!”

“Ok”.

His good mood having evaporated a little, I watched as Devda firstly replaced the cotton wool pad with a fresh one (a good sign). “Special medicine!” he said, dipping the rod into a jar of miscellaneous fluid. Noticing my less than confident expression, he shot me a yellow-toothed smile that I presumed was meant to reassure me. Special medicine huh? I  guess I’d have to trust him on that one. Somehow I couldn’t help but imagine the front page of the Hindustan Times the next day:

EAR POISONER STRIKES AGAIN!

Ear Cleaner India.

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Before I could formulate a concern, Devda had set to work again whilst Allan shook his head in disbelief and fired up the camcorder. ‘‘You next!’’ grinned Devda, but my Scottish comrade was having none of it. ‘‘Not a chance!’’ he laughed.

The cleansing was an odd sensation that gave me a strange pang of satisfaction each time the rod resurfaced with its grubby contents. It was during its third voyage into my inner depths that I felt a tugging at my toes. Craning my neck (no easy feat with a rod in your ear), I spied two gangly children pawing inquisitively at my boots.

“Sir, shoes no good! They dirty and broken… here and here” said the older of the boys. Meanwhile, the other rustled inside a plastic bag. “We fix sir no problem, 200!” said older boy, without looking up. Thus he produced a number of items that were presumably just the tools for the job. My agreement, it seemed, wasn’t necessary.

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Ear cleaner boy

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

By now a crowd of locals had started to gather. And they were all staring at the curious sight of us two pasty foreigners. Sticking out like the sorest of sore thumbs. It crossed my mind that they’d mistakenly concluded we were making some kind of movie. After all, Allan was filming me having my shoes (still attached to my feet) repaired while Devda the ear cleaner rummaged around in my lugs.

As the number of onlookers swelled I began to feel like a zoo exhibit. Some rare and exciting breed of endangered species. And so my good humour began to wane, until I wanted nothing more than for this charade to end. What had I gotten myself into?

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, the boys finished up on my boots. They’d scrubbed them clean, fixed an unravelled section of stitching and applied a coat of polish. All that was left now was to buff them both to a dull shine. Gratefully accepting their money with wide toothy grins, they bid me adieu and scampered off in search of more shoddy shoes.

But when payment time came for Devda the ear cleaner, he wasn’t so graceful. Counting out his 250 Rupees in my hand, I felt refreshed… purified… lighter even! On receipt of the agreed amount he simply glared at me with a face of unreserved disdain. It was as if I’d just spat on a batch of his wife’s freshly baked Nan bread.

10 Rupee note

Come Ear! – a short story from India.

“If you happy sir why not 300?” he barked, his moustache twitching with indignation. “No… we agreed a price’’ I countered. Suddenly I felt anxious to break free from the tight circle of people that had formed around us. Gathering up our stuff, Allan and I made our escape. And so the crowd parted, everyone watching as we headed for the park exit. Devda hopped after us, becoming more and more agitated as he gave chase. “Sir I using special medicine, 100 Rupees more!” he whined. “Look…” I said, trying to reason with him, “we agreed a price, I’m sorry”. 

“Fifty more, thirty more!

Please sir for you fifty Rupees nothing… special medicine!!!”

Devda continued his pursuit right up to the iron gates. There, he suddenly stopped, as if a magical force field prevented him from leaving the park’s leafy confines. Standing red-faced, fists punching the air, he accused me of being rich and spoilt. Of cheating him and exploiting India. “Come ear! Come eaaaaaaar!”

Stomping his foot on the ground, he screwed up his face so violently his eyes disappeared beneath the folds of his sunbaked skin. Crossing the road and leaving the park behind, I looked back one last time. Finally beaten, Devda ‘‘the bost ear cleaner’’, ‘‘the true profeshinal’’ trudged back into the park clutching his little box of magic tools.

‘Come Ear!’ is the second part of my short story series Incidents In India.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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34 Comments

  • Mary Phillips

    I actually think about this experience of yours from time to time. It was fun to read about in this form. Totally bizarre. As one says…”You couldn’t make this stuff up.”

    April 19, 2015 - 1:04 pm Reply
  • Beverley

    Very funny.

    April 19, 2015 - 6:19 pm Reply
  • natty4t

    Reblogged this on natty4t's Blog.

    April 29, 2015 - 11:58 am Reply
  • GypsyShack

    Hilarious story and cleverly written!

    June 22, 2015 - 8:11 am Reply
  • ourcrossings

    What a well-written story, Leighton. India is a vibrant land of startling contrasts where both the traditional and modern worlds meet, and I am glad to hear you had a memorable time exploring it. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

    January 7, 2022 - 12:35 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Aiva, it was the first and last time I’ve had my ears cleaned by somebody. But no regrets!

      January 7, 2022 - 1:43 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Now that is a memory. You probably do not want to know what was in that special medicine. Maybe wise not to smoke for a while after an ear cleaning. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    January 7, 2022 - 2:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha right on Allan, you know I’ve never been quite the same since that afternoon 😉

      January 7, 2022 - 4:56 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Both a gripping and amusing story Leighton. I was intrigued by the method of ear wax removal as I have had my ears syringed at the local health centre several times over the years as they used to get bunged up. Perhaps the Indian gentleman’s special medicine might have done the trick!

    January 7, 2022 - 3:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, we’ll I’m still alive I guess so it couldn’t have been that bad. I’ve heard about ear syringing, in fact there’s all little clinic here in Tean on the High Street that offers such a service. Thanks for reading!

      January 7, 2022 - 4:58 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    I can’t believe you did that!! We have many pictures of others getting it done, but not us! Glad you didn’t get an ear infection from it:) Great story Leighton. Maggie

    January 7, 2022 - 4:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, I was rather trusting looking back on it all. You’re only 25 once I guess, thanks for reading!

      January 7, 2022 - 5:00 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Reading this made me get tense with anxiety at the thought of someone randomly putting a rod into my ear and being unable to get away. I think I will take extra care to have clean ears from now on. Great chapter in your India adventure 🙂

    January 7, 2022 - 4:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Keep your ears clean Meg! Devda is coming and he knows where you live 😉 Thanks for reading!

      January 7, 2022 - 5:04 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        ***insert scary music here*** 😉

        January 7, 2022 - 5:14 pm
  • salsaworldtraveler

    It seems people can make a business out of almost anything. I’ve used a product called Debrox to clean my ears. It takes a lot longer than the ear cleaner man but safer I hope.

    January 7, 2022 - 5:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Probably safer. I am now thinking my ears are due another clean. I guess this next service is going to be a lot more expensive! Cheers John.

      January 7, 2022 - 5:39 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    Gosh, you must’ve looked like a spectacle in the middle of the park! I’ve encountered similar folks in Morocco and Turkey (even China) who would charge outrageous fees for services you really don’t need. I get that people need to earn a buck, but there are better ways to do so with dignity…sorry to hear you had a run-in with them!

    January 7, 2022 - 11:09 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha I shouldn’t have gotten myself sucked in but you know, this is how you learn about the the world through trial and error. It was fun to write this one up and remind myself of the experience.

      January 7, 2022 - 11:32 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I couldn’t help but cringe while reading this story, both in terms of getting your ears cleaned and then afterwards when Devda tried to squeeze more money out of you. What a great story though! I gotta ask, did your ears really feel that much cleaner afterwards?

    January 8, 2022 - 3:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha thanks the reading this silly tale. They did feel cleaner yes! I’ve always wondered if a part of that may have been psychological. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that he got plenty of earwax out. Yikes.

      January 8, 2022 - 3:51 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Envy your vivid storytelling but not the experience. I think you may owe him more money. He only promised you ten years.

    January 10, 2022 - 12:46 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, if you can track down his PayPal for me I’d be happy to send him another $4.

      January 10, 2022 - 12:51 am Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    What a story! I feel like this would be perfect for the game Two Truths and a Lie ha!

    January 10, 2022 - 3:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha if I ever find myself in that game again I’m going to do just that. Thanks for reading!

      January 10, 2022 - 9:29 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    Wow what an experience, I’d have felt too bad and ended up handing over all my money!!!

    January 10, 2022 - 3:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha you have a good heart Hannah. I think, if he’d been less aggressive, I would’ve happily given him a tip of some sort. But he blew it.

      January 10, 2022 - 3:17 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    That’s the India I remember, not the quiet park landscape, the aggressive hawkers. Once they have you, others join in, or they have one more thing to sell. Well told.

    January 10, 2022 - 5:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Ruth, as ever, for reading and contributing. It was relentless at times and, perhaps due to my young age and inexperience as a traveller, very difficult to deal with. Nevertheless, I look back on this ear cleaning escapade fondly.

      January 10, 2022 - 6:26 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Oh my, I had a good laugh now 😅! There is no way I would let Celine (sorry I mean Devda) close to my ears … but your story was unbelievable good and I’ve really enjoyed reading this!

    January 15, 2022 - 11:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      You are a wise woman Corna, far wiser than I was back then ha ha. How I wish I’d gotten a photograph of Devda. Somewhere, in a box in Scotland, the cassette recording of that ear cleaning still exists. I shall have to find it one of these years and transfer the tape to digital format.

      January 15, 2022 - 11:46 am Reply
  • Toonsarah

    What a great story, even if I did find myself pondering the state of my own ears as I read 😂

    February 1, 2022 - 4:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha I’m sure there are more hygienic services available to you Sarah. Or shall I ask Devda to get in touch?

      February 1, 2022 - 5:21 pm Reply
      • Toonsarah

        Er, I’m good thanks 😆

        February 1, 2022 - 5:48 pm

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