An oddity preserved through time: A glimpse into the age-old craft of Lucknow's Kaan Safai Walas
Talking about unusual jobs, have you ever across the Kaan Safai Walas in Lucknow? These folks are often seen wearing bright red skullcaps, with cleaning tools and cotton buds tucked behind their ears — their attire just as unique as their profession.
You can usually spot them wandering around the old city areas near places like Sharma Tea Shop, Darul Shafa, Vidhan Bhawan in Hazratganj, the Charbagh station area, Aminabad and more. You might also come across a few of them in other neighbourhoods, too.
Kaan Safai Walas can easily be spotted in several areas of the city
The profession is not just exclusive to our city, nor is it very new. You'll be surprised to know that the Kaan Safai Walas have been doing their thing in many parts of Northern India since the time of the Mughal Era.
While speaking to one of the Kaan Safai Walas, Raju, we learnt that he charges ₹40 per person for ear cleaning and somewhere between ₹200-300 for a head and shoulder massage. Raju Bhai, who has been in this profession since he was 10, can often be found near Sharmaji Ki Chai Shop in Hazratganj.
A Kaan Safai Wala's process includes washing their tools, a Salai (cleaning needle) and a pair of tongs, and then using them with cotton buds to remove ear wax. Following the ear cleaning, a homemade Ayurvedic oil is applied.
Raju Bhai explains, "I purchase sterilized cotton from medicine shops and I clean my tools properly for every customer."
Centuries-old profession carried on by a select few hawkers
Another practitioner, Ashok, who can be spotted near the Love Lane area, has his regular customers there. He shares, "My family has been in the same profession for three generations and I've been doing this since I was young. However, with the increased concerns about hygiene, especially after COVID, people are now avoiding getting their ears cleaned by us. On the flip side, many individuals prefer modern techniques available at clinics."
"Even though we may not possess the same expertise as a doctor, we handle our task delicately, ensuring not to harm the inner, more sensitive parts of the ear," he adds.
Kaan Safai Walas' craft continues to add to the city's diverse culture
In a nutshell, the Kaan Safai Walas stand out in the diverse cultural scene of North India and Lucknow. They stick to their age-old craft, serving as a reminder of the wide array of jobs that add flavour and intrigue to the city's culture.