Left no choice

share this article

If you're left-handed, you're sinister. No, that doesn't mean you're a bad person. Same way as you aren't a bad person if you're same-sex-oriented.

My mother told me that as a little girl in school, she would instinctively do things with her left hand. But that was not considered ‘right’ in those days: kids were frequently beaten for being left-handed, and forced to write with their right hands. Other friends have told me of older relatives who had had their dominant left hands tied behind their backs to force them to write right-handed. My mother wasn't thrashed, but she was forced to use her right hand, and it became her dominant hand for most things. But toss her something without notice — a key or something like that — and she would instinctively catch it with her left hand.


By the time I was in school, the belief, the superstition — whatever you want to call it — that left-handedness was somehow bad, against the natural order of things, seemed to have vanished. At least this was my experience.

Friends have since told me things like “my left hand was tied to the back of my chair by the nuns to make me write with my ‘right’ hand. ‘Devil child’ they called me.” And “At home, because the left hand is ‘dirty’ the ayah (childminder) threatened to burn it with coal.’ And “‘Sh*t hand’ was the term the family used.” And “As a child I would get thrashed if i pointed to pictures of various gods and showed how the rays of light always came out of their left hands.” But (and this is relevant) “I was treated like it was something special; at home, that is. Outside I heard similar nonsense as others. But I guess that helped me deal with it. It’s kinda like how we need ‘pride’ and ‘ garv’ to bolster all our various identities”.

Lefties were a minority, and still are, and will continue to be. Statistically, we are a right-handed species: only about 10% of people are left-handed, and — this is strictly anecdotal evidence — a significant number of people who are ambidextrous are actually left-handers who have got used to using their right hands.

17-year-old Kamindu Mendis is a rare cricketer who can bowl with either hand.

A little digression. We see a number of cricketers who bowl or throw with their left hands but bat right-handed, or vice versa. One theory says that the cricket batting stance we call right-handed is actually more suited to a leftie. Try it out: switching stance in cricket is easier than in most other sports. Again anecdotal.

The world is more hospitable to right-handed people on seemingly trivial things like the hand we use for handshakes, and which side of a garment the buttons and button-holes are, and the way most scripts are written across a page. Then there’s the design of any number of utensils and tools, computer keyboards and mice. Even for potentially dangerous power tools and sharp knives are mostly designed to be used by right-handers.

The bias against lefties remains in our language.

Sinister (adjective)

(1375-1425) late Middle English; Latin

On the left hand or side, hence unfavorable, injurious

A traditional Roman toga had only one 'sinus' or 'pocket', located on the left side, to leave the right-hand free.

Gauche (adjective)

(1745-55) French

crude, awkward, left

Reflect on what the English words descended from them mean. In Old English, ‘left’ meant weak, while ‘right’ is ‘correct.’ You’re a right-hand man, or left behind. 'Handedness' is embedded in customs. Like my friend’s reference to the hand used to clean oneself after defecation. And money, in some parts of India, must be handed over with the right hand. Parts of some religious observances must be performed with the right hand.

Dexter (adjective)

(1520-30) Latin

right, favourable, skill

Even the word 'ambidextrous' may imply being 'as skilled as a right-hander, with both hands'.

But in most civilised discourse, we no longer think left-handedness is evil or against the way of whatever god we bow to. We mostly accept that some people just are lefties. They don’t choose it, they aren’t tempted into it by bad company or decadent western morals or whatever someone’s pet bias is. People aren't refused jobs if they're left-handed; in some sports, being left-dominant is an advantage, even admired. We’re perfectly okay with our kids associating with them, or even being lefties themselves.

Lefties are ‘normal’ members of society in every way, even though the world we make around us is, quite literally, not always designed for their needs. With a little good-natured grumbling, lefties fit in just fine.

All of which is to say: I wonder when we'll reach the same societal consensus on people who are sexually attracted to the same sex as themselves. The stats are roughly the same, if I remember right: around 9% to 10% of humans are same-sex oriented.

Oh, I'm right-handed, for the record.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

share this article
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor