Nothing says ‘welcome to my town’ like the offer of a good ear cleaning. I personally wouldn’t feel at home without some total stranger going out on a limb to make sure my ears were as squeaky clean as can be.
Having been in India for a few weeks, I had come to recognize the hustle that characterizes the desperation and need that permeates the cultural fabric. People handing out ‘lottery’ tickets (every one a winner!) that require you to have a drink at a particular hotel. Insistent offers that you buy a particular bag or shawl, even if you are already sporting three bags and four shawls in the blistering heat. Beggars on every corner. As I soon learned, the beggars were often part of a guild, orphans who were intentionally crippled at birth or in early childhood, so that they would have no recourse but to serve the monsters who ‘saved’ them. Watching these poor souls, especially after being made aware of their circumstances, only deepened my pity for them.
As savvy as I thought I was, nothing could have prepared me for the moment when a man walked up to me and pointed out that I had some dirt on my ear. Thinking I had maybe been a little too exuberant while face diving into my Palak Paneer at lunch, I brushed my ear, and said a polite ‘thanks.’ “No, no, it is still dirty, sir.”, he said. You must make clean.” I reached for my ear again and rubbed it hard enough that had it been a lamp, a genie would have appeared.
“Sir, it is still dirty”, said the man, as he reached for me and stuck his finger in my ear. Now I generally consider myself a tolerant person, but I think most cultures would consider a UFitE (Unsolicited Finger in the Ear) to be a bit offensive. Doing my best Karate Kid ‘Wax Off’, I brushed his hand from the side of my head, and said something to the effect of ‘Whoa man, back off.’
To which I was greeted with a flourish of his hands, and the production of a certified ‘Ear Cleaning specialist’ card, with a very official looking crest in the corner from the Mumbai School of Ear Cleaners, and what was presumably the gentleman’s name. I took a closer look at the fellow, and judging by the stains on his shirt, the dirt under his nails, and the flip-flops on his feet, I decided that official card or no, there was no way in hell he was going to stick his fingers back in my ear. I firmly explained that my ears were fine and needed no cleaning, and that he should be on his way.
Thinking that perhaps I was just curious as to his pedigree and methods, he attempted again to demonstrate the proficiency with which he could clean ear. I am normally a peaceful man, but as his fingers violated my ear canal a second time, my ‘wax off’ was enough to make the man jump back, wondering what he could have done to offend. “Get your hands out of my ear!” I half yelled at the fellow. Looking stunned, as though I was the first person to ever react this way to his services, the man slinked off, looking no doubt for the next dirty ear.
I, on the other hand, having now had my ear canal twice penetrated by a filthy finger, was left in need of a good ear cleaner. If I only knew where to find one…