By: Manas Maisnam
I came to know from a social networking site a few months back that every year, 13th of August is observed as “International Lefthanders Day”. Frankly speaking, I have heard of Valentine’s Day, Friendship Day, Youths’ Day etc.; but Lefthanders Day? Never had I heard or was aware about it. Being a left-handed person, I felt extremely delighted that one day in a year is designated by the left-handed community to highlight problems, inconveniences and sometimes prejudices, we encounter in a world which is predominantly comprised of right-handed populace. It is a well known fact that almost exactly 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed and why left-handed persons are in such minority is still an unsolved mystery.
Till date, there has been no satisfactory explanation on why the right hand became the dominant hand for majority of mankind, or how a person becomes either right-handed or left-handed. Many interesting and thought-provoking theories have been postulated by experts, but none of them are able to give a conclusive proof/ reason to why humans are predominantly right-handed. Whatever may be the reasons, it is accepted that being either right-handed or left-handed also largely depend on the surrounding environment one grows up, apart from other factors like genetics, hereditary, birth defects etc. As for example, my son, who is a normal right-handed boy has become a “lefty” as far as usage of computer mouse is concerned. Ever since he started using my laptop a few years ago, he didn’t change the side on which the mouse was kept (I keep it on the left side). Instead, he clicks the mouse with his left hand. Now, he is not conversant in using the mouse with his right hand. I even observe that he moves the mouse to left side, if he happened to use someone else’s computer!
Out of the many tests used by experts, two simple tests will be helpful in ascertaining the handedness of a person. Firstly, a left-hander will tend to draw a side profile picture facing right, while a right handed-person will draw it facing left. Secondly, a left-hander will draw a circle in anticlockwise direction as compared to a right-handed person, who will draw it in clockwise direction.
The prejudice against the left-handers has been in existence throughout the history. Till not so long ago, left-handers were stigmatized and oppressed owing to socio-religious reasons. In ancient times, left-handers were denounced as servants of devils. Many negative aspects of human life were made to be associated with the left hand. In our country, the left hand is considered to be “impure” and one is not supposed to touch food, sacred objects with left hand. In some other parts of the world, women were not allowed to use their left hand during cooking, fearing the food might be poisoned by sorcery. Only a few decades ago, in Japan left-handedness in wife was enough ground for divorce! During Victorian period in England, left-handed students were forced to write with right-hand. Women, who are so called ‘weaker sex’ (though personally I don’t subscribe to this concept), are described in our own parlance as “Oigee Lamdang Oibee” and the males, who are supposed to be ‘superior’ are described as “Yetki Lamdang Oibaa”. At social or religious functions, the place for women is on the left side of their male counterparts. There is no need to elucidate on which hand is given more prominence vis-à-vis the preceding two phrases and description.
According to some study, forcefully changing the inborn left-handedness of a person due to societal prejudices might lead to depression, introversion etc. owing to overburdening of the non-dominant part of the brain as the dominant part of the brain remains unchanged even if the handedness is changed. But a voluntary change of handedness doesn’t appear to lead to such consequences. On National Geographic channel, I once saw a programme where a right-handed woman, who was a squash player, voluntarily participated in an experiment to study the effects of change in handedness. In the experiment she had to change herself to a left-handed woman within one month. Initially, she faced trouble performing daily activities or hitting the ball with squash racquet. But as time progressed, her capability to use left hand gradually improved. Even her reflex actions became oriented towards left hand. By the end of the month, left-handedness improved and could even play squash with her left hand. There were no negative impacts on her mental health owing to the changeover of the handedness from right to left.
My grandfather and his two brothers are left-handers. During my childhood, I heard stories about how their elders restrained their left hands and forced them to pick up morsels of food by right hand. Tearfully, they complied and thus, outwardly became right-handed persons, but their inherent left-handedness still remains for they use the left-hand while performing day to day works. Thankfully, for me there was no pressure to change the use of my hand and I eat, write and draw with my left hand. However, in deference to religious customs, I use my right hand while offering/ picking flowers or offering money at religious functions. I manage to do it somehow with some tacit support from my left hand!
A left-handed, or southpaw person has to face many a practical difficulties and inconveniences while performing day to day activities. This stems out from the fact that almost all the tools, machineries and gadgets used in our daily life or for educational purpose are manufactured to suit its usage by right-handers, who are 90 percent of the total global population. During my student life, using a burette in Chemistry laboratory was a bit problematic, because the tap was placed on the right side with the graduation marks facing the user. If I had to use the burette, controlling its tap with my left hand then, the burette had to be turned the other way round. In that case, the graduation mark was away from me and I had to look around to get the reading. Such problems occurred with a mini drafter too. In fact, during my college days, my mini-drafter was placed during drafting classes only for cosmetic purpose. I hardly used it. Even taking lecture notes in a classroom filled with writing pad chairs was also quite troublesome. As the pad was fixed on the right side of the chair, I had to drag in another empty chair and keep it at my left side to keep my notebook. But if the classroom happened to be fully occupied then I was left with no other option but to twist my torso and write on the notebook placed on the right side. There are many other tasks in everyday life which a southpaw person finds it hard to perform owing to the non-conformity of the tools with his handedness; for instance, pulling a generator’s cord. Most of the modern gadgets have their buttons and knobs on the right side and when used by a left-hander, it is bound to create some difficulty.
Acknowledging these practical difficulties faced by the southpaw community, a shop at London is selling products designed especially for left-handers. They range from scissors to cameras. Even the clock on sale in the shop moves in anticlockwise direction with the hourly markings as mirror image of the conventional clock!
In conclusion, we the left-handed community should not feel inferior to others or embarrassed on account of our handedness. Nature has meant us to be left-handed and we should respect it. Parents should not try to force their left-handed children to change the handedness. Despite all odds and challenges, we should look at life through a positive prism and try to get maximum advantage from it.