The life of a left-handed person is a perennial saga of fitting into a world tailor-made for the right-handed. My years of experience in such a world has taught me to transact money, play the reeds of the harmonium, use the scissors and perform similar inconsequential acts with my right hand. There are still countless other tasks that my right hand has not adopted to. Eating and writing are the foremost among them. More distressing than the process of adoption, is the stigma associated with being left-handed. This has led me on a path of finding ingenious ways to escape embarrassing situations.
In the dining hall of a party or at lunch with friends, while you consider what to eat, I will be quickly scanning the crowd to decide which hand to eat with. If it is a cosy meal at home with friends or family, I will dig into the savouries with my left hand; however, if it’s the birthday party of the daughter of my father’s colleague, I will attempt to eat as efficiently as possible with my right hand. With practice I have grown adept at such speculation. When I was young, I wasn’t so sure. So I would invariably ask those at the table, “Do you mind if I eat with my left hand?”
Every time my left hand shoots up to receive a religious offering, elders frown because the left hand is the ungodly limb. At some social events, my parents were even asked why they hadn’t corrected this tendency in my childhood. Quite understandably, they coaxed me to eat with my right hand. I would try to obey, but then I found the joys of eating grow faint. Right from the early days of training, I realised that my right hand has no estimate of the quantity of food I can fit into my mouth. So I’d literally end up biting more than I can chew.
Eating is an activity that engages the mind as much as the body. To pick a morsel between the fingers, to feel the distinct texture of different eatables is something the hand grows familiar with over the years. On being compelled to use the right hand at meals; the very act of eating became an awkward chore. Eventually, I reverted to eating with my left hand at home and in close circles and used the right hand for meals amidst strangers at formal gatherings.
For generations, left-handedness has been treated as a birth defect. Parents have been alarmed on discovering that their child preferred to throw the ball, eat and hold the pen with the left hand. What invariably follows is a forcible switching of left-handed kids into being right-handed ones. This has had negative implications such as dyslexia, social awkwardness, forgetfulness, poor concentration and so on.
Society’s disapproval of left-handedness is not confined to India. In medieval Europe, being left-handed was considered a disability. Cesare Lambroso, often referred to as the father of criminology, is said to have found a direct correlation between left-handedness and crime. A general aversion towards anything left is visible in various languages around the world. The French word, gauche meaning ‘left’, roughly translates to ‘awkward’ in English. In Latin, the word for ‘left-handed’ is sinistra . Unsurprisingly, the literal meaning of the word is ‘evil’. How can I blame society when an ancient language vilifies the left-handed?
Time and again the optimist in me decides to eat with the left hand irrespective of the place and the people around me. If all left-handed people eat with the hand of their choice it won’t be long until the act becomes normal, I tell myself. However, the remarks and questions ranging on topics from unholiness to morning ablutions always become a deterrent to my solo campaign. I don’t expect tools and equipment to be made to suit both the right-handed and the left-handed. I only want to have meals comfortably in public without having to face awkward glances. Am I asking for too much?