Thursday, 9 May 2013

Left Ahead

A few days ago I saw someone writing with her left hand and had a sudden thought – “What a lucky woman!”


Let me explain.

I am a left hander, though you’d probably not know it if you were to watch me doing anything. That’s because I am one of the very, very large number of Indians who were forced by their parents to use their right hands in childhood.

The figures are clear: while about 10-12% of Westerners are left-handed, the figures in India are somewhere below 5% - and even that, I am convinced, is an exaggeration. Now, there is no significant reason why – genetically speaking – Indians should have a third the number of lefties as, say, Americans. But there are other reasons, and they have everything to do with systematic and pervasive anti-left hander discrimination.

I am, as it happens, completely right-brained. I’ve never been able to see the famous spinning woman figure turn anticlockwise, which is how a left-brained (and hence right-handed) person sees her. I’m psychologically right-brained too. I’m (as you all know) creative. I see, as my Significant Other can attest, the Big Picture. I have no mechanical aptitude. And I’m clumsy.

I am clumsy, of course, because my subordinate left brain is being compelled to control my body, which it isn’t suited for. I’m functionally crippled in that respect, and all because my parents felt that having a left-handed child would be a social embarrassment. (They weren’t shy about telling me about this; they were proud. It was an achievement.)

Something they had in common with a lot of other Indian parents.

The anti-leftie attitude in India is as baffling as it’s extreme; and though weakening slowly in recent days, it’s still pervasive. That’s even more ridiculous when you realise that left handers are more creative and more imaginative than right-handers – a natural consequence of our right-brain dominance. And compelling us to use our right hands doesn’t turn out brains around, either.

Some years ago, I read an article which detailed some of the horror stories many other Indians went through at the hands of their parents. I remember one woman who said she had been forced to sit on her left hand while writing so she’d be forced to use her right; To this day, she said, and she was in her forties, she could only write if she sat on her left hand. Another person was burned on his left hand whenever his parents caught him using it – burned with a hot iron. What kind of barbarity is this?

Can you understand now why I thought that woman allowed to grow up as a leftie was lucky?

Actually, it’s never completely possible to convert a left-handed person into a right-hander. I used to shoot left-handed; I do a lot of things the way a left-hander would do them, and instinctively. That was until fairly recently.

Recently, I decided to reclaim my left-handed birthright. In other words, I decided to train myself to be left-handed again.

It’s a work in progress.

Some things have come easy. Eating with my left hand is no problem. Nor is using my left hand for tasks like using my cell-phone. I suspect that writing will forever be beyond my left hand’s capabilities, but what with computer keyboards I don’t write that much anyway anymore.

This morning, I achieved a signal step forward. I managed to brush my teeth adequately with my left hand. This isn’t a small thing – proper brushing is a complex procedure. I’m coming along.

But to this day I come across parents scolding their children for using their left hands, and I hope for something.

I hope their children will never forgive them. I didn't forgive mine.


  1. I am left handed too and for me she spins clockwise - my hub is left handed. Both of our sons are right handed and one of them can get the woman to spin counter clockwise and clockwise at will. That whole left handed thing was still happening when I was a kid. I wasn't banned from writing with my left hand but I was singled out and a frame was put on my pencil (to keep my hand from dragging through the ink) and it totally screwed up my writing.

  2. My both sons are left handed and write with their left hand. No problem at all. I am right handed, but can see the silhouette spinning clockwise or counter clockwise at will, when I concentrate on seeing the front or back. Focussing on the foot helps. I don't think it's related to right or left brain dominance, for me the dominant spin changes at different days and hours, but it's always possible to see the counter spin. For me at least.

  3. I do not believe in forgiveness. Or, I should say, I do not believe one must forgive for some obscure reason. Some things are unforgivable. The pressure on some victims to forgive is as unrelenting and pernicious as the pressure to write with the non-dominant hand.

    Before I read TL's comment, I found that by cocking my head I was able to see that the woman does not actually spin but moves back and forth. Mostly I see her spinning clockwise, but she does change direction. Not at my will.

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  5. In popular psychology, the illusion has been incorrectly[6] identified as a personality test that supposedly reveals which hemisphere of the brain is dominant in the observer. Under this wrong interpretation, it has been popularly called the Right Brain–Left Brain test,[7] and was widely circulated on the Internet during late 2008 to early 2009
    - from the wiki page for spinning dancer illusion

    If you haven't been able to make the dancer switch direction, then you probably haven't tried hard enough or are doing something wrong.

    from the wiki:
    One way of changing the direction perceived is to use averted vision and mentally look for an arm going behind instead of in front, then carefully move the eyes back. Some may perceive a change in direction more easily by narrowing visual focus to a specific region of the image, such as the spinning foot or the shadow below the dancer and gradually looking upwards. One can also try to tilt one's head to perceive a change in direction. Another way is to watch the base shadow foot, and perceive it as the toes always pointing away from you and it can help with direction change. You can also close your eyes and try and envision the dancer going in a direction then reopen them and the dancer should change directions. Still another way is to wait for the dancer's legs to cross in the projection and then try to perceive a change in the direction in what follows. You could also try using your peripheral vision to distract the dominant part of the brain, slowly look away from the ballerina and you may begin to see it spin in the other direction. Perhaps the easiest method is to blink rapidly (slightly varying the rate if necessary) until consecutive images are going in the 'new' direction. Then open your eyes and the new rotational direction is maintained. It is even possible to see the illusion in a way that the dancer is not spinning at all, but simply rotating back and forth 180 degrees.
    PS: you might still be right brained.. but the spinning dancer illusion is not test of the matter.

  6. I had never thought left-handed children might not be well accepted by parents. Here, in Portugal, I have never heard of 'stories' such as you mention. Anyway, congratulations for your own progress...

  7. I'm right-handed but the lady spins clockwise for me.

    I am pretty sure I am actually right-handed, though. My ex wrote right-handed, but like you, I think someone somewhere along the line had pushed her into it.

    In an emergency, when she didn't have time to think - a ball flying at her, trying to catch a falling glass, etc. - she would consistently use her left hand.

    I've never been sure of why a left-handed kid is seen as problematic. Of course, this reminds me of OTHER conditions that people think they can train someone to leave behind.

    Interesting stuff...

  8. My wife of 24 years was left handed and she saw things differently. She was the most wonderful human being I have ever known and had she not died from glio blastoma, we'd still be happily married. I always enjoyed her take on life and miss her even now.
    Don't let anybody dominate you Bill. same goes for all of you folks who stop by here. Be yourselves.


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