NRI

Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

Eat, Pray, Lota: The Desi Dilemma of Left Handedness

Eat, Pray, Lota: The Desi Dilemma of Left Handedness

August 14, 2012
Pulkit Datta

The crimes and punishments of being desi and using the "wrong" hand.

“Left-handers are wired into the artistic half of the brain, which makes them imaginative, creative, surprising, ambiguous, exasperating, stubborn, emotional, witty, obsessive, infuriating, delightful, original, but never, never, dull.”

James T deKay and Sandy Huffaker from The World’s Greatest Left-Handers: Why Left-Handers are Just Plain Better than Everybody Else.

How many times have you heard an aunt or grandparent gasp and ask incredibly concerned, "Why are you eating with the wrong hand?" or proclaim loudly "You shouldn't be putting your opposite hand forward for prasad"? Being left handed seems to be a cardinal sin of desi culture. It's a culture that's otherwise so diverse and usually adopts a nonchalant attitude towards a lot of strange customs. But if you're left handed, well, you've just crossed the line.

August 13 marked International Left-Handers' Day. It came and went without any news headlines, parades, or a heartfelt pledge by the UN for the betterment of southpaw lives. The unfortunate left-handed people of the world - the "sinister" few - went on about their day, just another day, in a right-handed world.

Yet within this global tribe is an even smaller group. A group that's been struggling against a cultural persecution of sorts - the South Asian leftie. Regularly at the mercy of centuries of traditions and cultural taboos that tell us we're wrong, we desi lefties have been growled at one too many times for using the "wrong" hand. A left hand exists, its sole purpose we're told, for the unmentionable business that transpires over the porcelain throne (or porcelain hole, depending on your preference).

Much like our attitudes towards poverty, sex, and Rakhi Sawant, we choose to pretend that what we do in the bathroom doesn't really exist. What's the need to even talk about it? But when that bathroom unmentionable affects the lives of innocent left-handed folk in weird, ghostly ways, that's when we bring that s**t out in the open (oops!).

Thus enters one of the crowning achievements of the subcontinental culture - the lota. It's a common custom in most of South Asia to use one's hand and a lota-full of water instead of toilet paper. We can deny it, claim it's a ghastly assumption, or awkwardly change topic. Truth is, it still happens. And without going into the science and mechanics of the system, let's just say it's actually supposed to be a better clean.

Even those who now swear by toilet paper end up using their left hand as an instinctive choice. But why must these glorious customs forever tarnish one hand and those who are hardwired from birth to use it?

This puts the lefties in a strange situation. That thing that no one speaks about is somehow still subconsciously on everyone's mind when it comes to eating.

Many tourist guidebooks and blogs for India faithfully state that visitors should avoid doing several things with their left hands - shake hands, exchange money, serve food, and eat. It's not only the devil's hand (as in Western mythology), it's also just plain dirty. Thus, the ever respectful tourist perpetuates the taboo even more. The same taboo the desi lefties have been facing from as far back as we can remember.

It's happened to the brownest of us. You're at a family gathering, among a group of people digging into a delicious platter of food, and suddenly a heavy hand smacks yours as you pick up a ladle full of dal makhani. Shaking it off, you sit down to eat and just as you put the first spoonful - or even worse, handful - into your mouth, there's a collective gasp around the room. Pin drop silence. You just did the unthinkable with your left hand and must now forever be branded as "that person who uses the 'wrong' hand."

The cultural prejudices against the "other" hand run far and deep. In the Hindi language, despite the existence of a perfectly official word for "left" - baaya - the colloquial terminology used is more along the lines of "wrong" or "opposite" - ulta. Parents, for time immemorial, have tried to convert their faulty kids to the right side, like a birth defect that must be corrected. Many have succeeded. Girls were often considered unfit for marriage until they were made to switch to the right hand. And many kids were either hit on the left hand or had chilli powder rubbed on as a deterrent. Yet we still don't call this a form of oppression.

And if you thought you were safe at least in the spiritual and intimate realm of worship, there's no escape there either. I've stopped counting the number of times I've been told by priests, elders or family to only extend the right hand when giving or receiving prasad (offering). Dhagas (religious threads) and karas (steel bracelets) can only grace the right wrist.

Even God knows what you do with your left hand. And he wants none of it.

The world around us has evolved comfortably into a right-centric existence. Even the most basic of daily activities are tailored for those who don't depend on the hand that's been elsewhere. Think scissors, computer mouse, fridge doors, can openers, cheque book stubs, trouser zips, ATMs. The list could go on. And if you ever wanted to play polo as a leftie, it's not even allowed. Being left-handed means living with the daily pressure to adapt. Yet all hope isn't flushed down the toilet.

Fortunately, the worst of our global persecution is over. Lefties are being recognized for greater creative inclinations, and heavier use of the right side of the brain (i.e. the more fun side).

While the right-handed world was busy enjoying their perfectly contoured scissors, lefties have slowly but steadily crept into almost every area of influence. Our hall of fame is vast, whether it's legends of history like Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, or current icons Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, or Oprah Winfrey. Even Justin Bieber's part of the club (hey, we'll take whoever we can get).

The South Asian cultural attitudes towards the left hand won't go away anytime soon. And neither will the preferred use of the hand for bathroom rituals. But why must those two be so closely intertwined? The only way to overcome is to defend the right to be left. It'll probably invite more frowning from the uncles and aunties, but soon they will go back to watching their TV serials and you can go on fighting the daily battle against the can opener.

And the rest of the right-handers out there, beware, there may be a leftie near you when you least expect it. 

24 Comments

  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    17.10.12 09:10 AM
    Thanks Anita! Power to the lefties! :-)
  • Anita
    By
    Anita
    16.10.12 12:07 PM
    Funny article! Thanks for writing it. As a leftie, I could relate to a lot of this. :)
  • Prasanna Raghavan
    By
    Prasanna Raghavan
    17.08.12 01:06 AM
    HI PD, it came as a sudden jolt from the left side. So they do have a day too. Ya they are a minority.

    Here in South Africa, I have never come across it as an issue of any level. Many learners in my classroom are left-hand writers. But I have never thought of the bathroom ritual, ya because I am a south Asian. LoL, very interesting to read your post. It sounded like a poem.
  • indu chhibber
    By
    indu chhibber
    16.08.12 09:29 PM
    Pulkit you have a point there-doors, scissors,sewing machines-all must have made life difficult for lefties.Only a sufferer could have written such a detailed & engaging post on the subject.
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    16.08.12 05:16 AM
    @India Violet: It's strange to see a leftie for the first time? I've never heard that before.
  • India Violet
    By
    India Violet
    15.08.12 12:57 PM
    I had wondered the same funny incidents for lefties, usually its strange to see a leftie for the first time but thats how it is, really would try to make my left side more working than earlier :)

  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    15.08.12 11:46 AM
    @Raghav: Glad you're an avid supporter of lefties. The world needs more people like you. :-)
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    15.08.12 11:44 AM
    @C. Suresh: Thanks a lot! I think humor is definitely a better approach to addressing some issues, especially if it still gets the point across. And people tend to respond better to humor than shouting and preaching.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    15.08.12 11:40 AM
    @HARRY: Thanks so much for your kind words. Glad I could entertain. :-)
  • Raghav
    By
    Raghav
    15.08.12 10:22 AM
    Funny! Personally I wish i was left handed. I just think it's so cool and different. My daughter showed hints of being lefty early on although we never discouraged her, eventually she turned out to be a righty. Oh well... all my hopes are on the grandchildren now ;-)
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    15.08.12 08:34 AM
    Hi Pulkit,

    Be proud boy if you are. No wonder you write stuff to brighten up dull people. Man U have a talent I don't.

    Tried the leather strap but don't work and to be born left handed you are born intelligent but unfortunately this earth is ruled by the majority that stopped being round anymore.

    Here are some facts they are true.

    http://www.lefthandersday.com/intelligence.html
  • C. Suresh
    By
    C. Suresh
    15.08.12 08:04 AM
    Hilarious post, Pulkit! It is wonderful that you are able to point out what must be a real problem for you without rancor and with so much humor.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.08.12 10:40 PM
    @RedStapler: I agree with the biomechanical conditioning - it makes sense. But that shouldn't inform an entire cultural construct around the left hand being bad. As for the left-handed icons, there are lots and lots of them. I just wanted to highlight a few. But you're right about the mighty minority. :-)
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    14.08.12 09:41 PM
    @ Pulkit

    One of your best writeup so far. I haven't stop laughing since I've read this.

    Even God knows what you do with your left hand. And he wants none of it.

    I think this is one of the best and Iconic sentence ever written by you.

    Both of my sons are lefties and I know what you mean. I have theory on why you get this, my wife and I have good laugh about this, but it can't be a discussion topic on this forum. Maybe someday.

    I still think that you shouldn't bring Rakhi Sawant and any hand in the same sentence or the post. :) You know what I mean don't you.

    Have a good one Pulkit.

    HARRY
  • RedStapler
    By
    RedStapler
    14.08.12 09:30 PM
    Isn't it simple? Most people are right handed and a heavy item like a lota full of water needs the stronger hand. So guess which hand has to do the other task? No Veda ever says to use a specific hand for a specific task. It's just natural biomechanical rules and is based on what works for a majority of population. Btw, you forgot Amitabh Bachchan in the list and also to point out that 4 of the last 5 US presidents have been left handed. Now that's some Mighty minority, I would say
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.08.12 09:01 PM
    @Rajpriya: Glad you enjoyed the piece. And as for your friend's long time problem, the answer is in there. He just has to look more carefully. ;-)
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.08.12 08:58 PM
    @Vivek: Thanks for the comments. You're always welcome to convert to a leftie. We're a very welcoming people.
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.08.12 08:57 PM
    @Jyoti: My mom uses both her hands as well. It's definitely a great skill, but if you think about it, you also do some stuff with your right hand without realizing it. It's as basic as using a computer mouse on the right side. If you do that, you're already adapting to using both hands. Take pride in being a leftie! :-)
  • Pulkit
    By
    Pulkit
    14.08.12 08:54 PM
    @Deepa: Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed it. Most people don't realize that every single daily convenience is tailored for right-handed people, even door handles and the way doors open. For lefties, it's just something we have to keep adapting to. So having cultural taboos piled on top of that is just too unfair. But I'm happy to get the support of a right-hander. :-)
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    14.08.12 07:36 PM
    I loved reading your leftie story and laughed a lot and told my leftie friend. He read the story and said he was very disappointed that he did not find the answer to a long time problem.

    He looked through your shop Leftortum and said he could not find a condom for lefties. LOL
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    14.08.12 07:12 PM
    Yes! it's possible. I have heard that the native Americans tied the left hand of a left handed child to the bed with leather strap when they slept so that they can move only right hand to make them become right handed. All you do is to get some one to tie your right hand to the bed when you sleep until one day you become a leftie. Try it.
  • Vivek Iyer
    By
    Vivek Iyer
    14.08.12 06:10 PM
    Very nice piece of writing. It happens, I've always wanted to be a leftie too. lol. Is it possible to become one?
  • Jyoti Agarwal
    By
    Jyoti Agarwal
    14.08.12 04:42 PM
    Great post Pulkit. My mom is capable of doing almost all her chores efficiently with both the hands (including writing and painting). I often envied her and cursed my left hand for being such an unusable entity. Thanks to your post, I now find myself a better fit to the desi world ;-)
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    By
    Deepa Duraisamy
    14.08.12 02:54 PM
    Hilarious and very insightful post Pulkit. Even though I am a right hander, I cannot tell you how many times I have been poked at by elders for accidently using my left hand. For habitual lefties, it would be chronic poking! The daily-activity stuff that you have talked about, never realized it before, but you're right! Its a right centric world unfortunately.

Leave a comment