9th September 2001
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Making it all right for left-handers

By Nilika de Silva
Ten per cent of the world's population is left-handed, but left-handers in our midst do not find life easy in a society that is geared to cater to the right-handed. 

Right from babyhood, unfair challenges are flung at left-handers. The little left-handed toddler struggles to manipulate a toy designed for a right-handed child. An older child facing the same problem wonders if it his own clumsiness or stupidity that makes even a simple pastime difficult. Little wonder then that such experiences can, in fact, be a very big barrier to personality development.

The problem persists in the adult world too, with the prevalence of what is often termed as being the 'left-handed in a right-hander's world' syndrome. Take for instance, a left-handed person entering a room full of people. The first impression he makes could be marred for he has had to struggle with the door knob, which could so easily be opened by someone who is right-handed. "I already feel uncomfortable even before I speak a word," explained one left-hander. 

Given this scenario, it is remarkable then that so many in our midst, celebrated sportsmen, popular film stars, talented artists, skilled craftsmen and journalists are left- handers. 

But most often, society is still not ready to recognise left-handers as being equal in ability to right- handers. The fifth edition of the Malalasekera Sinhalese-English Dictionary defines a left hander as 'Vamathahuru; adakshaya". "This is the kind of prejudice we have to fight against," said the President of the Lanka Left- Handers Association, Kumari Kadawathaarachchi. 

Left-handers tend to be underestimated, said Ms. Kadawatha-arachchi, though in any field it is clear that they have excelled. 

The Association which held its second AGM on August 13, International Left- Handers' Day is striving to provide left-handers in Sri Lanka the facilities and equipment those in developed countries are afforded. Those millions of day-to-day items that we have come to take for granted, like foot rulers, irons, scissors, pens, etc. The handicaps left-handed students face include writing chairs with no left-hand arm rest, which leaves the student having to turn the book around so as to be able to write. 

It was the Association Treasurer Primrose Mascarenas who proposed the idea of producing left- handers' foot rulers and distributing them to school children. This project which was launched at the AGM last month, will be extended island wide when further sponsorship comes in.

Superstition and custom in our society also tend to discriminate against left- handers, says Ms Kadawathaarachchi relating an experience that Association Secretary, Terrence E. de Silva faced. Going to a grocery shop early one morning he bought an item and handed the money over with his left hand, only to be berated by the shop owner, for bringing him misfortune first thing in the morning, "Why did you give the money with your left hand?" the shop keeper had asked heatedly.

But not all left-handers worry about the so-called difference. Hailing from a family of left-handers, Controller of Immigration and Emigration, N. Bambaravanage says he is comfortable with his left-handedness. His parents are both left-handers and so are three of his four siblings, all excelling in their chosen fields. 

But many are the times we hear of parents trying to force a left- handed youngster to use his right hand, thereby stifling his creativity and innovative streak. 

When the Sri Lanka Association for Left-Handers was established last year Founder President Christy Perera envisaged a gargantuan task ahead of them. Today the organisation which has a membership of 1,500 is poised to move mountains, which others don't even see. "Others don't realise the obstacles, because they don't physically face them," Ms Kadawathaarachchi said. 
Left achievers{tc "Left achievers"} Chief Justice - Sarath N. Silva, Solicitor General - C.R. de Silva, Controller of Immigration and Emigration - N. Bambaravanage, IGP - Lucky Kodituwakku, Karu Jayasuriya, Sanath Jayasuriya, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sabitha Perera,Nilmini Tennakoon and Sasanthi Jayasekera

Gone with the wind

By Punyakante Wijenaike
Where, oh where have those colourful kites gone, those big birds with outspread wings, the long, wriggly snakes, the butterflies and owls, the bats, the little men with funny faces, all soaring above the wind on Galle Face Green? Where have all the boys and girls and their helpful parents, not to mention the kite man himself gone?

Where have all the gram sellers, the vade carts with the fire torches, the balloon men, the little paper wind mills impaled on sticks that pulled at the heart strings of children, the chunks of juicy pinapple wrapped in polythene, the pickled mango, the mixture packets, the ice cream vans and carts with tinkling bells? Gone with the wind?

Where is the kaleidoscope of colour and life that was Saturday and Sunday afternoon blending into the sunset on Galle Face green? Sarees flapping against the salwar kameez, the blouse, the skirt or the lungi exposing a leg. The shirts and trousers, the cloth and banian, the old men gathering with walking sticks for an evening's chat or the young men jogging or walking vigorously, the multi-racial, multi-ethnic community of Colombo that gathered in harmony for that breath of fresh air to get rid of the dust and pollution of a city. Where have they all gone?

And the young umbrella loves who cuddled in the wind rain or sun. Where have they found another haven?

Babes pushed in prams while toddlers tried out their unsteady steps. Pregnant mothers-to-be taking their exercise in the fresh air. The ships on the distant sea, the sun setting like a golden ball on the horizon - these are still there. The green still stands but like a sentinel in a box. No one walks or talks on it any more. The fresh air still beckons but Galle Face green stands rigid, flanked by cement blocks.

Newly planted palmyrah plants droop in the sun while a wire fence separates the green from the public.

Yes, Galle Face Green still stands like a rigid reminder of camps used by Hitler to exterminate human beings...

Life and trials of a ladies' man

Lord Snowdon, despite disability, has rediscovered fatherhood at 71 and has an exhibition on tour. But what of the loves he left behind, Margarette Driscoll asks him

Taking Lord Snowdon to lunch is a tricky business. He lives in a grand stuccoed house in Kensington, west London, with a favourite restaurant at the end of the street, but so frail has he become that walking there is out of the question. It is difficult to know how much to intervene. Holding the door is acceptable but helping him into the taxi is a step too far ("I can manage, thank you"). He has suffered all his life from the after-effects of polio, contracted when he was 16 years old, which left him with a withered leg and a slight limp. This flaw, one suspects, served only to make him more attractive to the beautiful women he used to woo as one of London's most glamorous men. 

The most famous was Princess Margaret, to whom he was married for 18 years. Then there was Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, who divorced him last September. Ann Hills, a journalist and his long-term mistress, sadly killed herself in 1996.

Now he has another love: journalist Melanie Cable-Alexander with whom he has a three-year-old son, Jasper. He met her when he was invited to guest-edit an edition of Country Life magazine. He was still married, but embarked on an affair and she became pregnant.

His marriage did not survive. Yet he and Cable-Alexander did not get together and he did not put his name on the baby's birth certificate. As Cable-Alexander complained a few months after his birth (in Hello! magazine, of course): "He's never visited Jasper. He's seen him on a few occasions when I've been out pushing my pram. I regard Jasper as my child".

All three were photographed en famille recently on a trip to Wales. Snowdon was being pushed along in a wheelchair at Crewe; it was a shock to see how frail and worn he looked.

Coming so soon after Margaret's appearance at the Queen Mother's birthday celebrations, her once-lovely face now puffy and dark glasses covering her eyes, it was a salutary reminder of the transience of beauty.

Snowdon, 71, affects not to care about his disability—"I just shut up and get on with it. It's boring. I don't like talking about the weather either"—but he was clearly stung at being plastered all over the papers looking less than his usual dapper self.

With so many interesting things going on in the royal family (rumours of Charles's and Camilla's wedding, Margaret's illness) and his own life (being a father again), it seems irresistible not to wander off the subject of his work as a photographer. But he is the soul of discretion. Impertinent questions are met with a chilly smile. How is Princess Margaret? Silence. Then: "Do you know, that is the third car that's gone the wrong way up a one-way street." What is fatherhood like at his age? Silence. Then: "You know, that plug socket's always been on the slant."

Snowdon has always had a practical as well as an artistic streak. At Eton he made a toaster to make life easier for the fags. He is very proud of his son, David Linley, who makes "proper" furniture. By comparison, he says, he himself is a jerry-builder.

Linley says his favourite childhood memories were the hours spent in his father's workshop.

Young Jasper, too, will no doubt be introduced to the plane and lathe. "Children today have far too much," he says. "A child will come to you with a plastic aeroplane from a kit and say, 'I made this'. That's nonsense. I say, 'You didn't make it, you glued it together'. When I was a child I went out and got a piece of wood and made things myself, properly". 

I wonder why he agrees to interviews, given that they all turn into sparring matches. Fending off personal questions must be as much of a bore as asking them and getting nowhere. But you get the feeling that he is lonely; even a lunch spent keeping an inquisitive reporter at arm's length is better than sitting in that grand house all alone.

Last week he seemed particularly bereft. His hands shaking slightly, he explained that he had just received a letter of resignation from his photographic assistant Graham Piggott, who has been with him for 10 years.

The retrospective of Snowdon's work that was on show at the National Portrait Gallery last year is touring the world. His daughter Frances accompanied him to see it open at Yale University in the United States.

It is Moscow next. He leaves next week, but he has nobody to go with him and sounds querulous at the thought: "Up to now it would have been Graham, I suppose." 

He still takes pictures; only a few weeks ago his subject was a young singer who irked him by being very late. "The really talented people tend to have beautiful manners," he says. "It's the whipper-snappers who are rude to everyone in the house. I can't bear that."

He has been divorced from Margaret for more than 20 years, but never really left the royal fold. He is still in demand for formal portraits (he took Prince Harry's 16th birthday pictures) and is a regular at royal parties.

About his own undoubted talent he is modest. In his day, he says, "one only became a photographer because one drew badly". His subjects have ranged from the Queen Mother to Marlene Dietrich, and most look supremely relaxed in his portraits.

"I don't particularly want to put people at ease," he says. "You get something much more interesting if they are not quite at ease. All that nonsense about relaxing people with music. I work in silence."

He still loves taking photographs and plans to continue for as long as he can. His latest idea is a book on fashion designers. He says he fears repetition in his work more than anything. In that, and in life in general, it seems, he likes change: "I don't like to be stuck."

Life must have taught him some lessons. What wisdom would he pass on to his children? The chilly smile crosses his face: "None."

(The Sunday Times, London)

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