lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, May 28, 2006


It is the flux, I swear. It must be.

Not two days after we postesses discuss cutlery issues among a hundred other things, Siva talks about it. Is he telepathic? This post is dedicated to Siva, as it was inspired from his musings.

There is this to be said about tradition, and learned behaviour: it is not really taught, but seeps in through a weird kind of osmosis. In India, you never hand anything to anybody with your left hand; whether you are offering a glass of water to a guest, or giving a coin to a beggar, you do not use your left hand.

There is a proverb in Telugu which epitomises disdain; it translates roughly as disposing something off with the left hand. English idiom enshrines left-handed compliments. Sinister is not just the left side but also somewhat dire. Left-handedness is viewed with some suspicion, linked with Satanism. Facility is called adroitness. Clumsiness is called gaucherie. In Tantra, the Vamacharis, the practitioners of more potent magic are regarded as dangerous (Um... I was going to say sinister).

As you grow up, it doesn't take more than an admonition or two to remember always to hand things with your right hand, to learn not to let the left hand come anywhere near the food as you eat. When you can eat a 'cheruku rasam' mango, a sucking mango using just your right hand, you have learnt all that is needed of eating etiquette in India.

(An uncle of mine had a weird habit which I picked up, of not drinking water during a meal, but ending the meal with a couple of glasses of water drunk very quickly. I asked him about it once and he had a theory that drinking water during a meal impedes digestion. All right, I did say it was a weird habit. It was probably reluctance to use his left hand, who knows? But this habit of mine means that I can eat the dynamite mango pickle avakaya mixed with rice without reaching for a sip of water to soften its assault.)

In India, with our prohibitions and tradition, we probably all grow up a bit ambidextrous. That's just the way things are done. Perhaps this is why we don't have much breast-beating and bemoaning of neglecting left-handedness and not making allowances for it.

Let's face it, the world is mostly right-handed. Whether down at the level of molecules or the curvature of shells or people preferring one extremity to another, the world is basically right-handed.

(K tells me of chirality and tries to talk physics and math at me at this point. But I say, "Bah," which is a fitting and apt response. I should have added "Piffle," too, but it is too late now.)

But left-handedness, being more comfortable with using one's left hand than the right is tempered by this fact. There are no left-handed scissors or tools, at least none commonly available. Knife hafts are moulded for right-handed use. Switch panels, door handles or elevator buttons all presume right-handed usage. Analogue clocks, screws, rotary dial phones, numerical keypads on a keyboard, all involve left-to-right motions to accommodate right-handed usage, and left-handed people just get used to it.

They are more dexterous than the average right-handed population, because they have to learn or lag behind. On the other hand (:D, yes on the other hand), right-handed people, if faced with an implement designed specifically for left-handed use, are usually flummoxed.

When I was a new bride, my mother-in-law tried to bond with me in the kitchen over cooking. But she left soon-ish, claiming that watching me chop vegetables made her feel nervous.

Yes, I am left-handed.

It did not register when handicrafts teachers despaired of ever getting me to sew the way they wanted me to. I went to a decently progressive school, but the mind-set of the teachers did not gel with my preferences of hands. Today, I can sew with either hand and that is a neat trick to learn, but I am still traumatised about the tag of 'Is unable to sew conventionally.' The hours they spent trying to make me sew, yeah, conventionally: what a waste!

It never registered when I was learning to play the veena either, which involves dexterity of both hands; and I learnt to write using my right hand(one of the done things, after all), so I never had to think about handedness.

Until my husband's valet quit because he didn't want a memsahib checking his accounts, that is.

The first meal we made together ended up as a cooking lesson, on many levels. 'Slice this onion,' said K, and I floundered, having never used a knife before. Onion, knife. Knife, onion. Hmm. Which goes where? I found that my right hand is better suited to hold the onion in position while I wield the knife with the left hand.

Welcome, left-handedness. But I thought I was right-handed because I was using my right hand to do the more intricate and important job of holding the onion in place. Oh dear.

When we were discussing handedness and K mentioned that I was left-handed, his dear friend S asked, quick as a flash, which hand do you use to brush, Lali? Huh? My left, but of course.

Um. If I were using a toothbrush. If I had to clean my teeth with fingers, I'd use my right index finger, of course.



Anonymous Badari Narayanan said...

I wonder how you have enough time to write lengthy posts.

I try doing things with my left just to reduce the load on my right. While writing with the left, I feel writing from right to left with letters mirror images of the usual is more natural. What do you think?

11:45 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

No, seriously? Ambidextrous? Wow, that never fails to impress me! And you can sew with both hands? Dear lord, Lali, what other hidden troves of talent do you sit on? :)

In other news, new post up.

4:02 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Badari- Being a lady of leisure helps, :D and some eight hundred words isn't long, is it? Maybe I will keep them shorter.

While writing with the left, I feel writing from right to left with letters mirror images of the usual is more natural. What do you think?

Reading that made me cross-eyed. I can't write well with my left hand. It's indecipherable. Do you mean like the Arabic scripts? I suppose it does seem more logical.

12:40 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rimi- It's just a quirk, Princess, not much of a talent.

12:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:47 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

so m'lady is lefthanded? intriguing.

11:14 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh- Aw, come on. There are millions of lefthanded people. :D

9:28 am  
Blogger Priya said...

i'd heard of this store in the UK which sells tools and other stuff made exclusively for left handed people. neat, huh?
and you can sew with both hands? WOW! y'kno, this reminds me of a cousin of mine who was naturally left-handed, but was trained to be right-handed by the others at home right from when she was a kid. end result: she's amazingly ambidextrous, which makes her unbeatable at games like tennis and badminton.

12:28 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Priya, Sewing with either hand is useful, but I envy your cousin. I have no hand eye coordination for ball games.

1:00 pm  

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