I seem to have found an unlikely muse in Vijay – this is the second time I’m posting in two days inspired by something I saw on his blog!
It was 1999 and Sriram and I were in Coimbatore. Sriram had just got his teeth fixed, and had been warned by the dentist that he should not use the molars on the right side to chew anything. Sriram, in his usual inimitable style, was lamenting the loss of his ability to chomp down on the delicacies offered up by the Sakthi Chettinadu Mess. To me, at that point of time quite a glutton, and responsible for a sizeable chunk of the aforementioned mess’s business, not being able to chew with the molars on one side seemed not to be too much of a hassle. “So chew with the other side,” I casually told Sriram, who looked at me horrorstruck, as if I had suggested he should cook and eat his siblings.
I was taken aback by the vehemence of his reaction, and as we talked about it, uncovered something that was quite mind-boggling. From childhood, I was used to chewing my food with the teeth on both sides of my mouth – right molars or left molars, as long as they could help me grind my food I was happy. However, Sriram was a right-toother much like he was a right hander. This meant he used to chew his food with the teeth on the right side of his mouth, and chewing primarily with the teeth on the left side was to him rather like eating with his left hand – taboo in Tamil society. So we embarked on an informal survey, asking all the people we came across whether they favoured the teeth on any particular side of their mouth. Astonishingly, more than half the people (we must have asked about thirty or forty people – we were really quite jobless then!) we asked were right-toothed, while the others did not particularly care which side they chewed with. More astonishingly, each group was taken by surprise that anyone would do otherwise – much like Sriram and I had reacted. Further, right toothers were aghast that anyone would use both sides of their mouth to chew, while the ambidextrous (ambidental?) found it amusing that someone would actually prefer one side to chew with.
Shows how wrong we would be to assume even the tiniest detail!