If there’s been a style statement this winter in Chennai, it’s been the ubiquitous ear muff. You’ve probably seen it perched snugly over the ears of men and women, senior citizens and toddlers alike as they wait for buses, whizz by on bikes or make their way on our streets. It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing – veshti or sari, jeans and jacket or school uniform and Keds. The ear muff, it seems, is the perfect accessory.
“I sell about 10 or 15 a day, for Rs. 10 a piece,” says Hassan Mohamed, who stocks ear muffs at his little roadside stall in Tiruvallikeni (they lie nestled amidst those other staples of Chennai winter attire – the monkey cap and that wonderful invention, the cap-and-muffler-in-one – and, a little disconcertingly, underwear).
An elderly gentleman shopping nearby adds disapprovingly, “Some stalls sell it even for Rs. 15.” But, he assures me, you can get it for much cheaper in Parry’s Corner. Hassan nods sadly, “Yes, they sell many more there.”
He’s one of five others who sell ear muffs on that single stretch of road, and you’ll find sellers just like him everywhere from Mylapore market to Pondy Bazaar. Sometimes you’ll find the muffs hanging on the hawker’s arms as he sells them at street corners and at other times dangling jauntily off conveniently placed lampposts or poles.
“They’ve been very popular because there’s been so much pani (mist) this winter,” says Venkatachalam, whose muff-ware is lodged on one such lamppost.
Like most of the muffs in vogue this year, his too are all in camouflage patterns (to survive the urban jungle, perhaps?) and in highly unlikely colours at that (what exactly does bubblegum pink-and-white camouflage protect you against anyway?). But it’s been brisk business, and you can feel Venkatachalam’s pain as he adds wistfully, “We’re reaching the end of the season now; we’ll hardly sell any from now on.”