The Lethal Weapon

Back in school, there was a guy called Rishikesh Bhatia (name changed) and he was a bully. He was short but domineering, maybe because he came from a wealthy Punjabi family and Punjabis are naturally boisterous, at least in comparison to the east Indian population. Coming back to Rishikesh, he was entitled, loud and angry. I am sure there were reasons for him being the way he was, but I had my own troubles and tribulations to keep me busy and look at him from a 360-degree angle. I did not like him that much and I am guessing he did not like me either. But we rarely crossed paths, our friend circles were different, and we did not have to interact most of the days.

And then one day, we got into a fight. I can’t for the life of me remember what the fight was about. But I do remember how it played out. When school ended, I was walking home with another friend, dragging our cycles along with us, just outside the school gate and Rishikesh Bhatia came charging at me from behind with a long stick. He took a swing at me, and the stick hit my wrist. I will pause the story here and will describe myself to all of you who have not seen me and don’t know what I look like. During this incident, I was fourteen years old and so was Rishikesh, but I towered over him by a foot or so. Of course, he was more aggressive because he was kind of a goon, but had you been a stranger looking at that fight, your sympathies would probably have been with Rishikesh. Anyway, what happened next was this: I react with a crazy howl, like a feral animal, and pull the stick away from Rishikesh’s hand. He takes a few steps back because I have the weapon now and could very well take a swing.

But I do not.

I growl like an angry gorilla and hit myself hard with that stick, breaking it into two. And I shout at him to come hit me if he dares. He is confused and clearly a little taken aback. The bully is not used to such reactions to confrontations. He calls me a ‘fucking lunatic’ and goes away. I throw the stick away, pick up the bicycle, and walk away smiling with my friend, who asks me, “Two questions – What crawled up Bhatia’s ass? And why did you hit yourself?” I think I replied, “Not sure. Wasn’t it fun though?” Over the next few weeks, our bizarre altercation was discussed and dissected in the high school corridors to understand what had happened. And mostly everyone chalked it up to my quirkiness. You see, I was the class clown, often made fun of due to my height, known to be somewhat of a flirt but mostly a harmless giant. I had never really been in a fight before and I did not get into a fight again in high school, at least not an overtly physical one.

So, what was I thinking? Why did I react that way? I think, my aim was to ‘shock and awe’. I was not used to fighting. Despite my stature, I am sure I could have been easily beaten up by someone who was more used to swinging their fists. So, I used my head. I had my size which could be used as a deterrent in a fight, and I knew the only way to seem formidable (especially since I had an oafish reputation) was to seem crazily unpredictable. And hence that sudden animal growl and the hitting myself, implying that I was crazy and unhinged. And it had the desired effect. The situation diffused and over the next few weeks, Rishikesh joked with me about the incident too. There was not much animosity left after a while – clearly since I cannot even remember what the disagreement was about. We did not become great friends or anything, no movie script coming out of that relationship anytime soon but we went back to being acquaintances and would sometimes interact since our circles intersected.

The real story is what I am going to tell you right now. The story of that fight with Rishikesh was aimed at setting up the context. I have often written about how difficult it is for me to emote at times. I grew up in an unconventional arrangement after my father passed away, and growing up, I found myself emotionally chocked. I barely felt any strong emotions for people I should have, and I am sure I was perceived as cold or indifferent by my family. What nobody knew was how my emotions had the craziest way to show themselves. I would suddenly feel overwhelmed with emotions during movies and cry for several minutes at times. Or I would feel sudden warmth towards people coupled with a sense of comradery which was clearly out of place. 

This one time, Rishikesh and I were standing on the road outside the school gate along with other friends. I think it was gym period and we were going to play soccer on the school field which was situated across the road from the school campus. A car was speeding by on the road and Rishikesh grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from the speeding car. It was not one of those movie moments where he saved my life or anything, but when he grabbed my arm like that I felt a strange warm feeling of affection like he was a brother supporting me in time of need. It was weird. I did not say anything to him, of course. He had not done it out of the goodness of heart or any particular care for my wellbeing, but to me, it felt really moving. And I did not know what to do with that emotion. 

The relationship I had with Rishikesh before that day helped me analyze how absurd my feelings were in that scenario. This was probably the first instance where I began thinking about situations from more than one perspective.  Over the years, I learned how random my bursts of feelings could be and I also trained myself not to react to such bursts of emotions. You see, often, these feelings are not reciprocated or even matched in intensity by others. Expressing them would only lead to laughter and ridicule. I am not sure if holding back emotions is the right way to go, but it has been my go-to move for as long as I can remember.

As for the crazy animal fight routine - my 'Lethal Weapon' move, I did get to do it one more time in college in a small fight with a classmate Rahul Bombale. I believe I took a brick lying on the floor and hit myself on the forehead with it when Rahul attacked me. He burst into laughter – while it wasn’t the reaction I was expecting, it did manage to de-escalate the situation as effectively as ever. Thankfully, that was the last physical fight I was ever in. I am old now, so no fights for me. Haha.


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