Left will be right

Harish Bhat | Updated on January 15, 2018

Left neglected When will things go right for left-handers?

The large population of left-handers has specific needs that brands can smartly serve

I am a right hander. Since birth, I have always written and eaten with my right hand. Recently, though, I had to dramatically change my ways for a while, and here’s why. One morning, I slipped and fell at home, fracturing the ring finger of my right hand. Sadly, the X-ray showed a badly displaced bone, and the orthopaedic surgeon promptly put the finger into a tight cast, strapping it closely with the adjacent right middle finger. This operation effectively rendered my right hand unusable for several weeks.

So here I was, left with only my left hand to do everything – including writing, eating, shaving and typing. Interestingly though, I saw this as an opportunity to develop the use of my left hand, and become somewhat ambidextrous. But I ran into several problems, virtually immediately. The next morning, I needed to trim my greying moustache (this is a deeply ingrained weekly habit), and found that the scissors I normally use with my right hand do not work well at all, when used with the left hand. At office, the external computer mouse was also very difficult to use with the left hand, because its contours appeared to be best suited for the right hand.

Then, of course, I could only shake hands with my left hand – and when I extended my left hand to people I met, most of them would not know how to respond, and which hand to put forth themselves. And finally, I somehow felt mentally uncomfortable lighting the lamp in my Puja room at home with my left hand – because it has been subconsciously etched in my mind that religious activities have to be performed with the “auspicious” right hand.

All this has suddenly sensitised me to two subjects. First, the world around us appears to be designed for right-handed people, to the general exclusion of left-handers. This includes not just products and services, but also social beliefs and norms. Second, there is a huge opportunity for marketers to address the real needs of left-handers – particularly as the left-handed community is estimated to be more than 12 per cent of the overall population, which could mean more than 120 million left-handers in India alone. What are these functional problems that left-handers face, and would like solutions to? Based on dipstick interviews with ten left-handers, here is a quick and dirty list of ten day-to-day problems and needs which emerge.

Left handers generally hate spirally bound notebooks, because they have to write with their left hand on top of the metal spirals, which is very uncomfortable, and can also hurt the inner palm.

Office desks present a problem, because their drawers are generally placed to the right of the desks. Left-handers therefore have to stand up, or turn completely, to open the drawer.

Chairs used in classrooms, which have writing desks attached to the right chair handle, pose a severe problem to left-handers. They have to sit right on the edge of the chair to be able to write, which is very uncomfortable.

Shirts typically have their pockets on the left chest, which make them relatively difficult to access for left handers. Opening buttons on shirts, or zippers on trousers, in the manner they are generally constructed by brands today, is far more difficult with the left hand. If you don’t believe this, try it out yourself.

Cameras are designed with their shutter “click” button on the right side, to be operated by the right index finger. This can be a problem for left-handed photographers.

For those of us who use canned fruits and meat, conventional can openers are very difficult to use with the left hand.

Wrist watches have their crowns to the right of the watch, and these crowns are used to set the time, alarm, etc. Similarly, on most mobile phones, the power button and quick control buttons are on the right edge of the phone. These right-side settings are not left-hander-friendly.

Measuring tape, when used with the left hand, reads upside down. That’s difficult, for left-handed builders and tailors.

Water faucets appear to present one of the most recurring problems, because their knobs are positioned exclusively for right-handed use. If you attempt to control a faucet with your left hand, your hand will most likely get soaking wet, and it will also end up being an ungainly operation.

A lot of mainstream sporting equipment that is readily available, such as hockey sticks and golf clubs, is ergonomically designed to favour right-handers.

There are also the emotive needs of left-handers, which have not been detailed above. These often have their roots in the social stigma and parental concern that arise from using the left hand for activities such as eating, writing or accepting religious offerings. Instead of experiencing a natural sense of pride in their left-handedness, this can make many left-handers switch to using their right hands more often, at a young age, even though this goes against the grain of their neurological construct.

Brands that lean left

A scattering of good brands have begun addressing some of these functional needs of left-handers, though these are few and far between. Staedtler, the German instruments company, makes a fine range of left-handed pens and scissors. The ergonomic designs of these left-handed pens are a pleasure to see – they enable the left-hander to clearly see what she has written, and also ensure very fast drying of the ink so that the left hand is not smeared, as it moves over the print to write the next word or sentence.

Similarly, luxury brands of watches, such as Panerai, Hublot and Zenith offer left-handed watches, where the crown is positioned on the left of the handsomely styled wrist watch. These have been enthusiastically received, though they are pricey devices, and it is unlikely that most Indians can ever afford them.

Leftys, left-handed stores based in California and Florida, offer a range of left-handed products, ranging from tools, scissors, books and office stationery. Amazon offers left-handed guitars and golf clubs for sale, online.

Left-handed products for India

All these examples emanate from Europe and the US, and most can only cater to the affluent classes in India. Very few Indian brands have attempted to reach out to the mass market of left-handers, with specific solutions to their needs. There is a big opportunity to democratise left-handed products for Indian consumers, creating affordable versions of a wide range of products – cameras, mobile phones, scissors, pens, writing pads, shirts, watches, T-shirts that evoke left-handed pride – that all our lefty friends can buy and use, and which are customised for Indian conditions where necessary.

The customer segment is large, and their needs are real. Brands can serve these functional needs, and create profitable opportunities for themselves. In addition, brands can also emotively appeal to left-handers through smartly designed advertising campaigns that highlight the pride of being a leftie, and perhaps also showcase celebrities who are lefties – such as Barack Obama, Saurav Ganguly, Amitabh Bacchan and Isaac Newton. I wonder which Indian brands will first occupy consumers’ mindspace as being left-hander-friendly.

A good day to launch these products and marketing campaigns would be International Left Handers’ Day, which is celebrated on August 13 across the world. This special day was launched back in 1992 by the Left Handers’ Club, which now also has a presence in India. As one of the T-shirts retailed online by the Club states – “Live Life Left.”

I have lived life left for the past month, and it has left behind all the right lessons in my mind. Lest I forget, I must mention that I can now eat and shave fairly well, and shake hands confidently too, all with my left hand.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group. He is the author of the best-selling book “Tata Log”. He acknowledges the valuable inputs he has received from Jukta Basu Mallik in researching this article

Published on November 10, 2016

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