Glancing, from the living room into the kitchen we watched my mother-in-law quickly reprimand Amaya for taking the crayon out of her right-hand and placing it into her left. Amaya firmly belted out, “No, Amma (meaning paternal grandmother in Hindi), no, it’s my crayon!” My mother-in-law firmly asserted back, “No Amaya that is not Right! Amma told you to hold it in the right hand not in the left!” She then took the crayon out of Amaya’s left hand and placed it into her right hand. Amaya, startled, wailed out with a high pitched screech in her voice, “NO AMMAAAAH, AMAYA write okay! My husband, one to avoid conflict, slowly gravitated into the kitchen. He turned to his mom and said, “Mom, she always uses her left hand. She seems to be the most comfortable with her left hand.” My mother-in-law sharply stated in reply, “Ok, look this is not right, she must learn to use her right hand and not the left.” I later asked my husband what all the fuss was about and even he didn’t understand. He did, however, recall how his mom had previously taught another grandchild to use his right hand instead of his left.
Oddly enough, many of my family members are left handed. My dad and all his brothers are left handed and so is our niece (my sister’s daughter-a spit fire Einstein). My dad has always happily publicized that him being left handed is a sign of genius; he did after all graduate with his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PH.D while holding down a full-time.
Feeling clueless, we still didn’t have an answer to the lingering question of what is so wrong with being left-handed, particularly in Indian culture. Why was my mother-In-law so shaken about Amaya using her left hand/possibly being left-handed? Days later when we arrived home I decided to probe the internet to see what I could find out. Here is what I found (quite an eye opener):
- Being left-handed is considered taboo by some.
- While you can hold a utensil with you left hand, eating, which is usually done with the fingers, is done exclusively with the right hand.
- In India and across Asia the left hand is meant for cleaning yourself after going #2.
- The left hand is also for washing your feet and putting on and taking off your shoes .
- It is not proper to pass anything to anyone or accept items with your left hand. This is the purpose of the right hand.
- You should not wipe your mouth with you left hand or point at anyone with it.
- Right handed people prefer not to sit next to you at dinner tables.
- Just 2.5 years ago, a political party in India pushed for the criminalization of people that are left handed. They stated being left-handed is unnatural; an influence of the West. There was even a poll conducted in India which showed that many people believe being left-handed is a disease and can cause mental illness.
- A twitter movement was also started by outraged left-handed people in India to combat the aforementioned party’s position, #IFEELEFTOUT.
- Allowances are usually made for foreigners or those unacquainted with Indian culture/customs.
***Watch what Indian people are doing around you.
This made me wonder is the left hand bad/evil and the right hand good/holy? Since the joyous things in life are done with it but the lackluster necessities are done with the left. Yes! In Sanskrit, the word “वाम” (waama) stands for both “left” and “wicked.” Historically across cultures the left-side/being left handed was looked at as negative, evil, bad and unlucky, and the right side/hand was looked at as right, favorable, correct, and proper. Why? Across Asia in order to main cleanliness due to sanitation issues the right hand (which is the dominant hand for the majority) was taught to be used for eating and social interaction while the left was for personal hygiene and restroom activities. Hence, this is the origin of the stigma that my mother-in-law has with Amaya using her left hand/being left-handed.
Has this changed? To this day, Amaya still uses her left hand 60% of the time to color but we notice that she eats with her right hand. It is funny how cultural differences abound even in the littlest things like which hand to use while coloring in a coloring book. Who, knows perhaps she’ll be ambidextrous (as long as it’s okay with her Amma, wink).
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