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Being A Leftie In a Right-Handed World: A Message For Parents

17/02/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Piya Mukherjee Kalra

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"I am left-handed and I am always RIGHT," said a tagline that caught my attention at Lefty's (picture above), a store in San Francisco that specialises in things meant for the convenience of left-handed people.

It caught my attention because I am left-handed. Are you left-handed? Do you have a child who is left-handed? If the answer is yes, then what I write today may not be alien to you. If not, this may interest you even more.

My parents discovered I was left-handed when I was very young and thankfully never ventured into changing my instincts to the "right" hand. I was rarely pressurised to do things with the right hand. But the stigma associated with left-handedness was immense three decades ago, and to a lesser degree there is pressure to conform to the norm even today.

My parents did do one thing out of social pressure. They made me learn to use my right hand while eating by hand. This was because machher jhol-bhat (fish curry and rice) is not something you eat with a spoon in a Bengali household and because usually the left hand is designated for chores that are not considered very hygienic. At lunch and dinner invitations, I would cause a lot of discomfort and invite several raised eyebrows. So for the sake of relishing my machher jhol-bhat, I learnt to eat with my right hand. But for the life of me, I cannot hold the fork or spoon in my right hand. So when eating with a spoon, I still use my left hand.

Another thing that I remember distinctly was that if I offered something in the temple with my left hand, either the priest would refuse it or give me a stern look. Ma would prompt me to use my other hand. I never told my mother, but every time that happened I secretly cursed the priest. Bad Karma! So be it.

Now this social pressure that I mention was because left-handedness was considered to be some sort of disability. I have heard people asking my Ma, "Did you give it a try with her right hand?" Many would look at me and remark, "Oh! She uses her wrong hand."

I could never figure what was so wrong about it.

Things have changed since then. Today, some people believe that left-handedness is associated with intelligence, noting that a rather large proportion of geniuses were lefties. The actual research, of course, does not prove this. But today, when my daughter picks the crayon with her left hand and tilts her colouring book slightly before she begins to work, there are far less raised eyebrows.

Many people have asked me how I figured out that my daughter was a leftie. Was it easy to tell because I am left handed? My answer is simple. Place before the child objects that you need a strong grip to work - a pen, pencil, craft scissor or a heavier toy. If it is the left hand that comes forward most times, you have your answer. And if that is not simple enough, watch how your child claps. A left-handed child claps his or her left hand on the palm of the right hand; it's the other way around for a right-handed child.

Now there are some who can use both hands with equal comfort. I don't know if that is something that people practice or whether it comes naturally. All my life, I have wanted to do so but have failed even after much practice.

But there are few other things I do with my right hand ONLY. I figured I do that only because my options are few and limited. I use the scissor with my right hand since the blades are not sharp enough if I do it other way around. I use the can opener with my right hand. I invariably struggle with it and mostly delegate the task to the husband. That is also partly the reason why the store I mentioned was of interest to me and I'm sure to many other left-handed people.

But barring a few of those trivial challenges, both hands are equal, they function the same and are equally capable. Being left-handed is not uncommon, yet it is still treated as being different. It's time we give rest to a flawed perspective and rise above it. I hope parents reading this let their children use the hand that they are most comfortable with and never insist on them using the "right" hand.

Originally posted at Piya Mukherjee Kalra's blog at Chatoveracuppa.

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