Dumb Choices by the Banks of the Ganges

This is a cautionary tale told in too many words and with poor quality cellphone photos. Not for the squeamish or those who are my parents.

No. (Credit: Daily Mail)


While traveling I’m often faced with having to make the “smart decision” or “dumb decision.” I have often chosen to make the “dumb decision” and it’s always worked out perfectly. Probably because I never really think the “dumb decision” is dumb. At the time it sounds like an adventure and if you’re not looking for adventure you might as well just stay home and go grocery shopping.

I hate grocery shopping. I’m not cut out for buying Saran Wrap and standing at a conveyer belt full of spinach.

Friends, I am here to tell you that I made a dumb decision while standing by the banks of the Ganges and it ended with me having to face one of my biggest fears. I’m telling you about this, because if I can save one person from getting their ears cleaned by a half blind man with a metal lunchbox I can pack up and leave the blogging world.

Street Ear Cleaning: A Rich Tradition

Ear cleaning at the side of the street is a trade that’s existed as far back as Mughal times in India. The generation of people doing it now were likely taught by their fathers who were taught by their fathers. Today, customers are generally older folks who have been doing it for ages and who trust the process more than using a Q-Tip. It’s also significantly cheaper than going to a doctor who might charge $100 for this service. A guy on the street wearing a red beanie will charge somewhere around 100 Rupees. Unless you’re me. If you’re me you’ll pay somewhere around 600 Rupees for a man to stick a metal stick in your ear. That’s about $9.

If it wasn't legitimate, would he be carrying that metal box with "Ear Cleaner" painted on it? I DOUBT IT.

If it wasn’t legitimate, would he be carrying that metal box with “Ear Cleaner” painted on it? I DOUBT IT. NOTE: This isn’t the guy who stuck a metal stick in my ear, but he might be friends with the guy who did.

My Ear Decision:

During my travels in Southeast Asia last year I managed to get two ear infections at the same time. After a nice French doctor suggested that I not swim in the Mekong for a while and after having immediately swam in the Mekong, I’ve always felt things were a little off in my ears. So, when I saw one of these guys from the back, I decided it was time to sort things out. Typically, they’re the ones to approach potential customers so I’m sure the guy was completely caught off guard when I chased him down the street pointing to my ears. It wasn’t until I actually got his attention and he turned around that I realized he was blind in one eye.

I was, no doubt, caught up in the glitz and glamour of the Ganges so when I saw that he was blind I only thought about changing my mind for about one second. After that I immediately decided that this made it more authentic and was even more thrilled by the idea of what was about to happen. He led me to a quiet area of steps leading down to the river and got to work.

I’ll spare you the details, but it was gross.

There was a metal stick with some gauze that he pulled out from behind his ear (see above photo) and some mystery liquid. After he took his first look he realized that this would be a bigger job than anticipated and repeated “Big problem!” over and over again. In an effort to empower him I said something like, “yes, but you can do it!” I know it worked because his eyes shined with the glory of knowing that he held the future of my right ear in his hand.

Serious business. For both of us.

Serious business. For both of us.

He pulled out another small bottle from his metal box and looked at me as if to suggest that this was the good stuff. I pointed at my ear to suggest he should get on with it. Then he made that finger movement that told me magic comes with a price.

We negotiated and I ended up paying about 12 times what it should have cost. It’s amazing what you’ll agree to when you’re sitting at the banks of the Ganges with a half blind man holding a metal stick to your ear. Everything was going fabulously. The metal stick was doing its job, I was already mentally patting myself on the back for making this authentic choice and the crowd of about 15 people that had formed was finally beginning to disperse.

It was around this time that he made a mistake.

I think he got a little too ambitious. Maybe all the empowerment made him too confident. Either way, something got jammed into my ear. I screamed, people looked and we just stared at each other in horror.

Another thing I will teach you: It is near impossible to explain that ear wax has been jammed too far into your ear and that you can’t hear anything to someone that only speaks Hindi when you only speak English.

Despite me asking that he keep trying to fix things, the hearing in my right ear was not coming back. At this point we both agreed things weren’t working out. In what was probably the smartest decision of the day, I ended our ear cleaning session without him even looking inside my left ear. If I was never going to hear out of my right ear again, I wanted to make sure I still had the left. You see, I’m not all adventure and dumb decisions.

Sometimes I do the responsible thing, which in this case meant having a half-blind man only ram a metal stick into one ear.

Remedy Attempt #1: This could be considered another “dumb decision.”

I remembered seeing an Ayurvedic doctor back on the main street in town. Not wanting to be dramatic by searching out a medical doctor to take a look inside, I visited this place hoping that a few herbs stuck inside the ear canal would be just what the (Ayurvedic) doctor ordered. This is when things got really scary and I was forced to face one of my biggest fears.

Note: I have a short list of reasonable fears. They are:

  • Breaking my clavicle in a revolving door
  • Walking up or down an out-of-service escalator at the mall and it suddenly resuming operation hurtling me headfirst into Sharper Image
  • Getting my teeth kicked out by an angry horse
  • Turning on the shower and having it rain spiders
  • Getting a paper cut from an office folder *
  • Tripping over an open dishwasher door
  • Death
  • Life *
  • Choking when nobody is around to Heimlich me
  • Dengue fever that spreads to my brain
  • Getting a compound fracture
  • Showing up overdressed *
  • Showing up underdressed *
  • Showing up dressed like Queen Esther from the Jewish story of Purim *
  • Being pushed onto the subway tracks by a deranged fellow rider
  • Taking a bite of a Cadbury cream egg and finding there’s a real egg inside *
  • People touching my face with their full palms *

( * indicates things that have actually happened)

India and natural medicine will force you to face your fears.

India and natural medicine will force you to face your fears.

It was only when this guy dripped hot oil into my ears and up my nose that I started to actually regret what I had done on the banks of the Ganges. When he followed it up by a full-palm face massage I almost asked him to just kill me. I had come to grips with life on my right side always being a little muffled, but I wasn’t prepared for facing my fear of face touching on that very same day.

The colorful blanket on the doctor's healing table made things a little better.

A chamber of horrors.

After an intense 5 minutes he left and told me to meet him at his desk. When I got there he had already counted out some brown pills and put them into a tiny unmarked brown bag. Sort of what I imagine Jack got during that whole beanstalk fiasco.

I can’t really remember everything he told me to do (or maybe he spoke into my right ear) but I know it involved taking the pills with tea multiple times throughout the day. I did that for a few days, but every morning when i performed my hum test (you sit up and hum and if you hear it as a rattle inside your brain, you are not cured) I lost a little bit of hope.

The full-palm face massage didn’t work. The un-named pills didn’t work. Jamming my own finger inside my ear and shaking my head violently towards the ground didn’t work.

Remedy Attempt #2: The next day I left Rishikesh for Delhi knowing it was time to have a professional check things out. This is the part where I give you actual, useable information beyond just the suggestion that you not let someone put a metal stick in your right ear.

I visited Max Multi-Specialty Center in Saket in the Panchsheel Park area of Delhi. I was so impressed with their level of service and their process for moving patients in and out on a busy Saturday. I highly recommend them if you need a doctor in Delhi or really any medical attention in Delhi at all. They have locations throughout the city and in many other cities throughout India.

Click here to find directions from wherever you are in Delhi to the Max Multi-Specialty Saket location. Click here to make an appointment at any Max Multi-Specialty location.

I wasn’t able to take photos here, but it looked a lot like any modern healthcare facility you’ve probably seen. The first step was getting a number from the information desk. After about 10 minutes, my number was called by a man behind a desk who asked me why I was there. I explained everything – from the half-blind ear cleaner to the crowd of people watching me to the full-palm face massage to the magic bean-pills. He summarized the whole thing by entering “right ear blockage” into the computer. Fair enough. Let’s keep things moving.

I paid him a total of $27 and he made an appointment for me on the 4th floor in the Ear, Nose, Throat department. I was given a receipt and a piece of paper which I handed to someone on the 4th floor who then entered me into the queue to see the doctor. Because it was Saturday it felt like everyone in Delhi was there waiting. The place was packed and I was still called in to the doctor’s office within 40 minutes of walking through the front door of the place.

Modern medicine!

At first it looked like a high-tech tattoo parlor, but then I remembered that modern medicine is a thing.

The doctor put a suction-y tube in my ear and a few minutes later my right side life stopped being a blur of muffled activity. To test if I was actually cured he had his assistant bang a tuning fork on the arm of the chair and then place it on my front teeth. That’s now a new addition to my short and reasonable list of fears. To avoid her putting the tuning fork anywhere else I declared myself cured, thanked them and walked out.

In the end, everything worked out okay. I’d say better than okay considering I now know where to go if I ever need stitches, gastric bypass, an eye exam, a baby delivered, minimally invasive gallbladder removal surgery, a questionable mole examined, a therapy session, breast implants, a root canal, a pap smear, or IVF while I’m in Delhi.

And now you do too.

Also, their website is the best website I have ever visited in my life. You can search every single doctor in the network and see a photo, their background, their expertise, their favorite My Little Pony character, and their email. The only thing you can’t do on their site is actually touch the doctor, but there might be a section for that currently under construction in Bangalore.

Thank you to my iPhone for helping me create this homage to Dr. Ajit Man Singh.

Thank you to my iPhone for helping me create this homage to Dr. Ajit Man Singh. 

For now, to actually touch a doctor, you can go to:

Max Multi Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park
N 110, Panchsheel Park
New Delhi 110 017.

To book an appointment with a doctor on the phone, call: 8860 444 888

To take my mind off not hearing out of my right ear, I practiced pointing my toes as far as they would go. This also serves as a photographic way to end this story.

To take my mind off not hearing out of my right ear, I practiced making my legs really straight and lifting them off the table. This also serves as a photographic way to end this story.


7 thoughts on “Dumb Choices by the Banks of the Ganges

    • Me neither! His sounds like the kind of thing that seems possible until one day the confusion is cleared up. Like thinking that everyone does 2 years of Kindergarten.

      I also almost woke a sleeping baby with my laughter when I read “turning on the shower and having it rain spiders”. Guess what I’m afraid of now, though?

  1. It’s surprising and not surprising that we have very similar fears!

    I am so afraid of breaking my hand in a revolving door and also that escalator thing! YES! And also getting my shoelace stuck in it and my foot getting sucked in.
    And the shower spider thing – that’s why you turn it on and watch the shower for about 10 -30 seconds before you get in. You can never be too safe! (I’m also afraid of taking a bath in a house by myself because I’m afraid of a serial killer breaking in and then trying to take advantage of me and I will try to fight back, slip on the wet tile, fall down and crack my head open and be half in and half out of the bathtub when the cops find me. I can’t even handle it.)

  2. Just as lost items are always found in the last place you look, successful medical care is usually found in the last place you go. Maybe there’s something worth noting here. Go to the last place first and get the cure that works. A half blind guy with needles and behind the ear gauze storage is unlikely to be that last place. Just sayin’

    Your father

    Harvey Starin 561-665-0900 Broker Associate Realty Associates FLA Properties Hstarin@aol.com


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