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Being a leftie in a right-handed world

Among all the marginalised communities and minorities, there is one that is almost never talked about — the left-handed community.

While I am not sure if there has been any formal study done on the number of lefties in this world, it is estimated that every 10th person is left-handed, considering that by that estimate almost 10% of the earth’s population is so, it is surprising that generally all gadgets, cooking tools, eating etiquette, pieces of furniture (wraparound desk in school: we’ll come back to this, and the list can go on), are all made keeping the right-handed in mind.

In order to survive in this obviously right-handed world, we, lefties have learnt to improvise, adapt, pull out new techniques from our left-handed bag of tricks, to handle any curve ball that the right-handed world might throw at us.

During my school days, particularly for examinations I really dreaded being stuck with the wraparound desk. The wraparound desks that were and perhaps still are being made keeping a right-handed person in mind. Writing the exam on that desk demanded as much physical flexibility as shown by contortionists. During one such struggle, as I was trying to find the least uncomfortable position (if that was possible) to write my paper, I remember the invigilator stopping at my desk. Oh, he observed, you are a left-hander (thank you for stating the obvious). He followed up his acute observation by an even more remarkable statement. He said, “left-handers are slow at writing, I don't think you will be able to finish the paper.” Having said that, he merrily trotted on, perhaps to stop at another desk and impart some other pearl of wisdom on an unsuspecting student. (Many lefties twist their wrist clockwise to write from above, while others like me slant the paper counter-clock-wise. Improvisation is the key.)

The above experience, however, was neither unexpected nor new. Besides the practical problems that come with being left-handed in an obviously right-handed world, in many societies a certain stigma is attached to being left-handed. Without pointing fingers at any particular society, it is a fact that using the left hand for eating or even holding the spoon in the left hand while eating is looked down upon and actively discouraged.

I was lucky enough to have not been subjugated to this strict diktat of right hand only while eating in my toddler days, though I organically and gradually moved towards the right hand while eating by hand. The spoon, however, I still need to hold in my left hand. I have on many occasions as a kid been advised by some aunty (and the society I come from, auntyjis and unclejis abound), “Beta (son), hold the spoon in the right hand”. My standard response would be, aunty, I am left-handed and this is comfortable. This would invariably be followed with questions on whether I write with my left hand, hold the racquet in my left hand… They also ask if I can write with my right hand as well. (Many left-handed people are ambidextrous either naturally or have it forced up on them.) I usually answer all the questions dutifully, though I would have wished to tell auntyji to take her gender bias (I’m a beti not beta: daughter and not son) and her utter lack of knowledge about left-handed people elsewhere. But if I had, then perhaps auntyji would have made a mental note: not only is she left-handed but also rude.

I have actually seen the left hand being tied up to stop a child (one year old) from using that hand for certain daily activities, particularly eating. The parents (they were our tenants) were, perhaps in their misguided righteousness, doing what they believed was the best solution to nip a ‘’wrong habit’’ right in its bud. But what they, like most people, didn’t realise was that this is how nature intended it for the person. From verbal discouragement to actual physical action, many parents go to any lengths to ensure the use of the ‘’right’’ hand, which is perceived as right in more ways than one. What is lost on them is the impact that leaves on the impressionable mind of the child, being reprimanded for something that is not in her hand, right or left.

Growing up, like most lefties, I have managed to teach myself to use most of the day-to-day tools (that are often biased towards right-handed people), such as computer mouse, scissors (except if the handles are not even then it becomes difficult). The two worst culprits when it comes to kitchen tools are the can-opener and the peeler (the peeler problem has been resolved by using a peeler with two blades), both designed exclusively for right-handed use.

Right from a deck of cards to the door knob, all are designed for right-handed people. Table manners require that while eating with fork and knife, one should, if we go the American way, hold the fork in the left and knife in the right while cutting the food, then switch the fork to the right hand to eat. European etiquette demands that the fork remains in the left hand while eating as well, and the knife is used to nudge the food on to the fork. Personally, I would prefer to hold the knife in my dominant hand to make it easier to cut, but table manners are again skewed towards the right hand.

While we lefties have adapted ourselves to the right-handed world, the right-handed would not be able to survive for even a day in our left-handed world. The case in point is the use of the computer mouse. On my work table the mouse is kept on the left hand side for convenience, though I can manage on the right side as well. But if any of my right-handed colleagues had to use the mouse at my table, it becomes a scene worthy of being recorded. First starts the feeble attempt to use the mouse with the left hand, after the cursor moves around randomly on the computer screen as he/she tries to control the mouse. This struggle is followed up with trying to relocate the mouse to the right hand side, and a few words of praise for me, like how do I manage with the mouse on the left hand side. Well, I manage because I am a left-handed person. The ultimate test that a right-handed person puts himself to, in his quest to establish his genius over the left-handed citizens, is trying to scribble his name with his left hand and then patting himself on his back if it turns out even remotely legible.

If we trace the origin of the word left, across most languages left is associated with weak, sinister, worthless — to point out a few negative connotations. Many common English idioms also play upon this negative association. On the bright side, lefties are considered to be more creative and artistically inclined though historically weaker in mathematics. (Don't blame me for my poor grade; blame my left hand, please). In sports, particularly cricket, boxing and tennis, being left-handed has an advantage. But then again, the rules are made keeping right-handed people in mind. I would often refer to the long list of left-handed celebrities, be it in films, the arts, sports or politics, to establish the superiority of us lefties on this right-handed world. But I have long since outgrown this phase of my life.

There are a few facts and many myths (the older ones get debunked and new ones come up) associated with left-handedness. However, as a left-handed minority we should enjoy our uniqueness and demand that products and services are designed to cater to this unique gift of nature.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 12:20:55 PM |

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