Five years ago, while cutting triangles and circles for my math records, I tried using the scissors with my right hand since my left hand had fallen numb. But I ended up with hexagons, octagons and pentagons instead of circles, thanks to the sharp-edged devil with a disproportionate handle. I also remember reading as a kid, that left-handers had a shorter lifespan and that it was due to having to use things designed for right handers.
A few days ago, I was on my way to college when the autowala asked me, “Right ya left?” Both ways would have taken me to college: left would be a little shorter, but right would be the faster option, this is Bangalore you see. That day, I was not expecting too much traffic on the left, so I had already made up my mind. “Right, bhaiyya, right se jao.” I replied, half shouting through the vrooms and peep-peeps; also at the same time drawing lines in thin air with my left hand.
The International Left-handers Day was unknown to me until a few years ago, and a website for Left-handers Day was an even more recent discovery. That is when I read up more about the history behind lefthandedness, or rather, how they were seen in the olden days. I was moved by the fact that left-handedness was often seen as evil, and that it was tied to evil — black magic is sometimes referred to as left hand path. That God uses his right hand for blessings, and the Devil used his left hand to curse people. Ah, well, I cannot talk about other religions, but as far as I remember, in my religion, Gods can both bless, and curse you – so could saints. And mothers. Sons could curse too. True, blessings were given with the right hand, but people just cursed with their mouth, and not with their left hand.
Apparently, humans used both hands equally during Stone Age, and a dominant hand emerged only after an increased use of weapons. Another theory that I came across proposed that because the heart was on the left, the left hand carried the shield; and the right hand held the weapon. And thus it became the dominant hand. But why the more important hand?
Wasn’t the heart important enough? And suddenly, I realised women were not the only ones repressed in history. Anybody different from, or against the conventions of, society is simply wrong and evil. And a bad omen. Not only was I a woman, I was also left handed. And that would mean double repression.
As I read up more on it, I rediscovered two words: dexter and sinister. It was a serendipity – a happy, accidental discovery, as my botany sir had explained three years ago. Dexter referred to being on or towards the right hand side, while sinister referred to being on or towards the left hand side. In a coat of arms, it is from the bearer’s point of view, but from the viewer’s point of view, sinister will be the right, and dexter will be the left. So doesn’t it all ultimately come down to how the observer chooses to look at it?
From then on, sinister did not feel so sinister anymore. In fact, it was my new favourite word– it made me feel good, and badass, at the same time. I remember this one autowala who scolded me for giving him the money with my left hand, and refused to take it till I gave him the money with my right hand. It was early in the morning, and I might have been his first customer. And if my left handedness would have been a bad omen for him in any way, then I really hope with all my heart, that his day would have been disastrous.
During my mid-semester exams, last month, there was this one day where there were two exams scheduled. On all the other days, we had only one exam per day. That day, for some unknown reason, we were not to sit in our usual exam hall and were shifted to a different room. It was quite hexagonal, and seemed taller than the other rooms. The hall was beautiful, but I was dismayed the moment I entered it – for a different reason altogether. In front of me were rows and rows of arm chairs. The arm rest was not big enough for the right handers to write araam se, forget left handers. I sat down, facing the right side so as to somehow manage my hand, and my answer booklet, in that tiny space. I prayed that the invigilator would not think that I was copying. I broke my neck that day and dreaded the afternoon exam. As I left the classroom, I saw a science student writing with his left hand. I empathised with him, shook my head, let out a sigh, and left.
My childhood chuddy buddy, N, had once told me that she had almost become a left hander, but her parents changed her handedness. That simply made me glad that my parents did not do that to me, except of course, they made sure I ate with my right hand (though I use the spoon with my left hand). I mostly had fun with my left handedness.
The biggest advantage of being a lefty, according to me, was that I could eat and write at the same time. Buhihihi (evil laugh). I could write my record, and still eat snacks, without having to take a break. But my left handedness has always confused me between left and right. What was right for others, was always left for me. As a kid, my mother had tied a jabicha charadu, a sacred thread, on my left hand. This was how I identified which side was my left. But at the same time, every time I sat down to write something after a shower, the wet charadu would pee on my page. A few years later, she replaced it with a brand new one, one that did not smell of soap, one that had not greyed with age. But she tied it on my right wrist – like it was supposed to have been; she had tied it wrong the first time. Maybe because I had asked her to, like Harry had asked the sorting hat to put him in Gryffindor.
But, this change of wrists resulted in extreme confusion, which is when I came up with other alternatives. I would either write in thin air, to recognise my left hand. Or, I would I eat air out of my hand, in order to identify my right hand.
During a Std. 9 maths class, my teacher was standing near me, when she remarked, “Oh, you draw the square root the other way round.” Yes, of course I do, but how does it matter as long as the roof of the square root will remain straight? Does she realise that if I start my square root from the left- from the downward arrow- rather than the roof itself , the roof will slant all the way down, ultimately slicing all the numbers inside the square root, like Fruit Ninja? No, she had no idea whatsoever.
For a mother who loves math, I was a disastrous daughter. My sevens and nines were laterally inverted when I was really small. I remember how that aaya in school struggled with her right hand to teach me alphabets and numbers, while I struggled with my left to learn. How, miraculously, 32 in my working column would become 23 in the same sheet, a few centimetres away. My primary school math teacher always called them careless mistakes. How I lost one or two marks just because of my carelessness. Greater than and lesser than signs horrified me more than any horror film ever did. I would mean 7 is greater than 2, but would write 7<2.
My notebooks, records, answer sheets all had extrapolations in them, thanks to the right-handed idiot near me. The best time in class for me, as a student who takes notes, was class 12, only because my bench mate (and best friend) was a left hander too. Such a smooth combination. Out of a class of 52 students, there were four left handers in my class – all girls.
That was the most number of lefties per class that I had ever come across. But now, out of a class of 44, I am the only lefty.
As a kid who went for dance classes. I would almost always start the step with my left hand, while everybody behind me would start with their right – and this was on stage. Years ago, because there was no left hander around, I learnt to play badminton with my right hand. I later discovered that not only can I manage to write with my right hand, I can also write laterally inverted very easily. I would write sentences, hold the book up in front of a mirror, and read them. Writing with my right hand takes a long time, and the handwriting is very shaky. Though I know I can improve it with practice, why should I?
According to statistics in various websites, a left-hander has more chances of having a left-handed child. And I really hope my kid will be left-handed; how else will I teach him/her to write alphabets? I don’t want a repeat of the aaya teaching me, only here I would be the one struggling to teach my right-handed child.