Tag Archives: Toilet

Use And Misuse Of The Left Hand In India

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.

Context:

My informant, SV, is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me. NOTE: For this dialogue, I am AT.

Performance:

SV: “So… In India there’s a tradition of eating with your hands, and-which is quite common, and one of the, I guess, major rules or things that may offend someone is if you use your left hand to eat or grab things or get things. And the primary reason for this is it is considered unclean, because in older generations in India, uhm, when you’re cleaning yourself, uhm, after taking a shit… It’s usually using water and your hands, and most people are sort of taught to use their left hand, so that’s one of the reasons why your left hand is unclean, even though obviously you’re going to wash it with soap or gonna wash your hands. So that’s one of the kind of traditions there is that’s kind of prevalent in India.” 

AT: “What if you’re left handed?”

SV: “So that’s sort of a weird, uhm… So the way it started was even if you’re left handed you use sort of- you use your right hand to eat or like you use your right hand to for example, if you’re in a shop or in someone’s house and you’re giving something or taking something from them you’re always taught to use your right hand, or maybe if it’s heavy both hands, but never your left hand. But uhm… Like, I don’t know, I think that maybe in slightly older time they didn’t want people to be left handed for this reason, but I think nowadays less emphasis is placed on this thing.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “Overall I think like… There’s sort of like some reason-like some reasoning behind it that is sort of valid to some extent. But like I guess like with modern like, uhm, advancements and like stuff like washing your hands with soap and I think now in most urban settings people have a bidet they use to wash their like, bodies once they’re taking a shit. So I don’t think it’s as big an issue, using your left hand, and now being left-handed or using your left handed doesn’t make you any worse than any other person. I think maybe if you were in some more rural areas and you used your left hand I think maybe some people might like be offended. But in general I think this is not very common a lot now.

Thoughts:

I had never really heard of anything like this until now, but I think SV is right in that it maybe seems like fairly sound reasoning in times before advancements in modern day sanitation and cleanliness. Upon some further research, it appears that the left hand is not only used for wiping one’s rear but also for other “unclean” actions as well, such as the removal of shoes, and cleaning your feet. Apparently left-handed activists in India today are attempting to fight prejudice against left-handed people, in schools some left-handed kids are taught to only use their right hand and are beaten for using their left. However overall, as SV said, it seems these practices and prejudices are fading in modern India.

Here I Sit, Broken Hearted

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of songs and stuff too. Like his, okay. His grandpa built the railroads in California, and they would like sing songs while the worked and stuff. And so he just knew all these like limericks and little poems and stuff that were always like, pretty dirty. The only one I remember – I learned it for my third grade poetry class. And got in trouble, but it was, uh, ‘Here I sit, broken hearted. Tried to shit, but only farted. So then I stood to take a chance, tried to fart, but shit my pants.’ I said ‘poop’, but yeah. Third grade.”

Ah, the classic bathroom graffiti poem. I remember reading this on the wall of a dirty little gas-station in Fresno on the drive up to San Francisco for a family vacation. In looking online, I was unable to track down a definitive source for the poem, although there are many guesses. It’s interesting to hear it linked to to the railroad builders of California way back when. Online, the only consensus anyone can achieve is that it originated with pay toilets, as a different version of the poem goes “Here I sit, broken hearted. Paid a dime and only farted. Yesterday I took a chance, Saved a dime and shit my pants”, making reference to back when pay toilets were a widespread thing across America and the world.  According to a few online sources, a group called CEPTIA (The Committee to End Pay Toilets In America) arose in the 70’s and rallied against pay-toilets. They enjoyed large success, and now pay-toilets exist mainly in memory and entertainment.

For a thread on a discussion of the poem, check out: https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/chhju/here_i_sit_broken_hearted/

For a 1973 article on CEPTIA, check out: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CPceAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KY0EAAAAIBAJ&pg=7338,2470934