During my nearly six decades, I had faced some minor problems with my left-handedness. Aside from writing upside down and having some difficulty using scissors, I have fared fairly well with this sinister situation. On my recent flight to Delhi, India, I refreshed my memory about the customs of the subcontinent. During the year of preparation, I came across many suggestions to avoid becoming ugly American tourists. The most peculiar was about not eating with your left hand. It ranks up there with ordering roast beef in Bombay or veal in Varansis. It is strictly forbidden. This prohibition poses a real problem for a lefty like me.
However, I wished to fit in and not to stand out like a sore left hand. So, I resolved to comply with that strange admonition, although I knew that it would be difficult. It would be as difficult as taking a shower without getting any water on your lips. You learn to do this if you don't want to experience Delhi-belly. Nevertheless, why was there this anti-lefty issue? The reason is quite simple. Toilet paper isn't universally available in the subcontinent. Instead of Charmin look-alikes, many merely use their hand-their left hand. Hence, the prohibition against eating with your left hand is understandable.
Back to my flight from Chicago to Delhi: when the flight attendant came with my meal, I resolved that I would start practicing using my right hand. It wasn't long before I had to clean some chicken something off my tie. I again felt that old feeling of failure that I had experienced while in school. There are some things that I just can't learn.
After several more hours of flying, nature's call caused me to seek out the on board out-house. I generally avoid using any public facilities, but I thought to myself, this bathroom will be the cleanest one that I will visit for a month...get a grip and just do it. As I was washing my hands, I realized that I had used my left-hand albeit with toilet paper-not surprising for someone who is left-handed. As I made my way to 43-A, I pondered this phenomenon. It is true; lefthanders use their left hand for most things including going to the bathroom. Then it came to me, what hand would a right-hander use-with or without a handful of Charmin's. I can't imagine all right-handed Asians always remembering to use their left hand. However, as I looked around at all the Indians on the flight, none of them was using their left hand to eat.
Little did I know at the time, the issue for most of the trip was not be toilet paper or lack of it, but the issue was to be the lack of toilets altogether. I'm still trying to determine whether the subcontinent is just dirty when it comes to toilet issues or whether we in the West are too anal-retentive.
When I got back to the States, one of the first telephone calls that I received was from the Red Cross wanting me to donate blood. Donating blood is something that I do routinely as often as I can. However, when I told the caller that I had just gotten back from India, the voice at the other end merely said, "Oh, we can't use your blood for at least a year!" I wonder if the caller knew that I was left-handed?
My suggestion, to those wishing to travel in India, is that you might want to reconsider, but if you have your heart set on it, take plenty of toilet paper. Thankfully, we did and were happy that we had done so. Next time, we might even try to tote a toilet around with us.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 11/5/01.