Left is all right for them

Left-handed? Fed up of snide remarks? Just turn around and say you're in great company, says BHUMIKA K.

Ambidextrousness was seen as a skill. And a big word.

Being right-handed was seen as normal. And "right" in every sense.

Being a southpaw was seen to be as bizarre and abnormal as being in a freak show. You got the second scathing stare when you ate with the left hand or offered money with it. Unless, of course, you are Amitabh Bachchan.

Just a generation ago, being left-handed was to suffer frequent mortification. Thankfully attitudes have changed and being a lefty is quite an accepted fashion. Well, almost. Lefties are no more looked upon as black sheep, the strays that didn't learn. But most left-handed people have drawn a rap on their knuckles when, as kids, they ate or wrote with their favoured hand, discovered MetroPlus on World Left Handers' Day recently. By the way, the term southpaw comes from baseball terminology, applied to a left-handed pitcher.

Ahem! But have you noticed or what? People in power, royalty, thinkers and scientists, the best of actors, the world's most innovative composers and top sportspersons are (and were) predominantly left-handed? So also some of the most conniving and destructive minds.

Ruchi. S (name changed), a 30-year-old graphic designer, has walked out of shops when shop-owners refused to accept money she gives with her left hand. "In more cosmopolitan areas people won't bother. But even today, I face this problem when I walk into a shop in older parts of the city." When she was in Standard Eight, she enrolled for guitar classes during summer. She wasted all those days just strumming because the teacher didn't know how to teach a left-hander! Her parents never forced her to switch hands even to eat, but other elders in the family did. "I avoid eating at religious gatherings. As a kid when I went to a social gathering, I always went to the last or corner seat to eat by myself." Ruchi also points out that generally left-handed boys don't attract as much horror. Her grandfather and brother were left-handed. "I can't write with my right hand even now. My right hand is like... zero!" she laughs. But she must have had her ultimate triumph when she got married recently — she performed all the wedding rituals with her left hand!

There is the common belief that since left-handed people use the right side of the brain more often than someone who is right-handed (because they use the left hand for most activities and the right hand too), their faculties are more developed. There is a dawning realisation that left-handers must be left alone just like right-handers and not be forced to change their preference. "Yes, we are seen as sharp people. So very often I get asked if I'm bright," laughs 28-year-old Shamita (name changed). "I was left-handed from the time I can remember. My parents never objected, but other people always insisted on putting things in my right hand." Through school and college she wrote with her left hand, and played games like badminton too with her left. She believes that she probably has more strength in that hand.

Her parents, however, put an end to her eating with her left hand when she was five years old, but her six-year-old nephew doesn't have it so tough today. "His parents are more aware today that they shouldn't stop him using his left hand and just let him be." Concepts of the left hand being "dirty" — the hand used to wash in the toilet, the hand you mustn't put forward to take something, the hand you can't use when doing some religious or auspicious thing — are fast disappearing.

N.R. Krishna Udupa, a professional keyboard player, used to be ambidextrous as a kid. He could write equally well and neatly with either hand, though he preferred his left. The scissors and knife always go automatically into his left hand even now, and it was never a problem handling such equipment, he says. Ududpa, though, chooses to respect the sentiments of other people, and makes it a point to pay the autorickshaw driver, for example, conscientiously with his right hand.

But when he was in Standard Three, Udupa's teacher hit him on his left hand one day when he started writing on the blackboard. "I decided to change over to the right hand, because I didn't want to be hit by the teacher again! Now I can't write with my left," says Udupa. But he plays the keyboard predominantly with his left hand. His father was also a southpaw and played the harmonium with his left hand. "I think my father quite liked the fact that I used my left hand, just like him." Udupa's older brother and sister are left-handed too. "I have come across a lot of musicians who are left-handed, specially flautists," he observes.

Consultant paediatrician Anuradha H.S. says she does have parents walking in occasionally asking her what they should do to get their child to switch over to the right hand. "You have to counsel parents in such cases that there is nothing wrong with using the left hand and that they should not be forced to use the right. Otherwise there could be psychological repercussions; psychologists believe such children can get withdrawn and may suffer depression," she says.

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