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When the letter arrived this afternoon, I looked at the tantalizingly plump envelope and wondered. What did it contain; after all it was too thick and heavy to be holding just a sheet of paper?

Unwilling and unable to wait any longer, I slit open the envelope, and this is what it enclosed 

 

And this

 

But most of all it held within it the love and thoughtfulness of my friend Fujino San who sent it all the way from Japan.

It has been wonderful how friends, who are not Bae Yong Joon fans themselves, often go out of their way to look for BYJ souvenirs just for me simply because they care (more stories about this on another occasion).

BYJ lives in our hearts, but right now I am wondering where to put these lovely stickers; stickers that will always remind me of Fujino San.

Any ideas?

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Yong Joon rushed into the house, leaving the front door bang shut behind him. He flung his school bag on the sofa, kicked off his shoes and stomped up to the little corner that his mother liked to call her “office”. As usual, she was busy typing away at the computer. 

 

‘Aai,’ he called out. 

The fingers on the keyboard paused, then hit the Save button. 

‘Hi Beta, you’re back, how was school today?’ 

‘Aai, I am never going to school again,’ came the abrupt reply. 

‘Why dear? You like school.’ 

‘Aai, what is the meaning of Yong Joon? WHY did you name me Yong Joon?’ he demanded in an apparent change of subject. 

‘Why? It’s a lovely name, and you know that.’ 

‘But what does it MEAN?’ 

‘Come, you must be hungry, let’s eat. I have made your favorite gul poli.’ 

Aai never answered the question, but her eyes grew misty whenever he asked her that. Yong Joon hated himself for making his mother feel this way, but he could not help himself. He had to know. He was tired of the look of bewilderment he got in response, every time that he mentioned his name. 

‘I am Yong Joon.’ 

‘Yawng, June?!’ 

‘Yong Joon, Y.O.N.G Yong J.O.O.N Joon, Yong Joon Deshpande.’ 

‘Yong… Joon..!? Deshpande???’ A quizzical look. 

It happened every single time. Today it was the new teacher in school. ‘Yonn… Yong Joo Joo Joon Deshpande,’ she had faltered even as the other kids in class tittered. 

‘Aai, why did you name me Yong Joon? I hate it, hate it, hate it.’ 

‘My baby,’ Aai replied with her usual hug. 

‘Yong Joon? Tell me what it means?’ he demanded again. 

Aai just held him closer. 

*** 

Sarita knew she would have to answer her little boy someday. His questions took her back to the past and her first love Akash, not that she would ever forget that summer of eight years ago. They had studied together in school, and although college and later work had taken them their separate ways, Sarita and Akash had remained in touch. Slowly, unperceived and unknown at first, the friendship had blossomed into love, and Akash had moved in with her when he returned from a posting at Seoul eight years ago. With him had come his memories of another land; he told her of his days there and they had often watched recordings of his favorite television programmes of the place that had for sometime been his home.  

‘Gyeoul Yeonga,’ Akash had said one day. ‘It was telecast when I was there. Like it? I never really had time to see it though.’ So it was that one Saturday evening they started to see the television serial Gyeoul Yeonga, or Winter Sonata as Akash explained to her. Akash, who had picked up enough of the language during his stay in Seoul, narrated the story to her as she watched the drama, mesmerised by the heart-breaking tale of love and longing. He held her close as she smiled and cried with the characters on screen, desperately wanting the son to find his father and the main protagonists, Yu-jin and Jun-sang, so cruelly separated by fate, to be together again, those sultry Mumbai evenings eight years ago.  

Many a times, back home from her fixed-hours job at a publishing house Sarita would go back to the drama as she waited for Akash to return from his often late-into-the-night work at an IT firm. Akash would come back and exclaim in mock disbelief, ‘Not again, you are hopeless,’ and gather her in his arms. ‘Can’t keep your eyes off Jun-sang, is it?’ he would tease. ‘No, Lee Min-hyung,’ she would tease back, referring to the hero’s double role.  

But Akash was right. She hadn’t noticed how and when Jun-sang / Min-hyung and Yu-jin had become a part of her life. ‘You don’t want to know who has played Jun-sang and Min-hyung? It’s an actor called Bae Yong Joon,’ Akash said. She simply smiled back in return.  

Sarita had forgotten that particular incident. What she could not forget was how tenderly Akash held her as they watched Winter Sonata together. ‘We will name our son Yong Joon,’ he had said, a twinkle in his eyes, ‘you will never look at the baby otherwise.’ ‘Promise,’ her eyes had twinkled back in reply.  

Sarita did not know whether Yu-jin and Jun-sang lived happily ever after because the last few episodes of the serial were missing. But her relationship with Akash was destined to come to an end.  

‘Another assignment, luckily it’s only for one month,’ Akash had announced one day. Sarita had some news for him as well but held back; the surprise could wait for a month she thought, downcast at the thought of Akash going away. She continued to watch her favourite drama wondering how it would end, yet again.  

‘Don’t worry; I will get you the DVD this time so that you know what finally happens. Am I forgiven now?’ And Akash was gone.  

She had left her job, preferring to freelance, preparing for the days that would soon force her to stay at home. She would have Akash back by her side by then; one month would simply fly away. Or so she thought.  

That one month had turned into two, then three…time crawled for her, but the days were simply flying away. At first they spoke frequently on phone, then it was long letters on email; but soon Akash got busier, his letters became irregular, then declined to a trickle and finally dried up into complete silence. She heard from a friend returning from Seoul that Akash was seeing someone else now, a Korean colleague from his company.  

‘Why don’t you tell him you are expecting his child,’ her friends had advised. But she could not get herself to do it and have Akash come back when his love for her no longer remained.  

When the baby came Akash was far from her world. ‘Yong Joon,’ she whispered into his ears as the doctor placed the little bundle into her arms. People had thought she was crazy to give her child such a strange name. But she did not care; there was only one name by which she could call Akash’s son. With the coming of the baby she had thought memories of Akash would fade away. But they had only grown stronger, and the drama they had seen together had become a habit, her only link to his world now so far away. 

*** 

Now that Akash was no longer there, she watched the serial alone. Yong Joon hated the drama she loved so much. 

‘Aai, I hate that uncle.’ 

‘Which one, dear?’ 

‘This one with the scarf and long coat, I hate him,’ Yong Joon punched the air with his fists at his namesake on screen. 

‘Why darling, why don’t you like him?’ 

‘He makes that auntie cry, and you are always crying when you see him.’ 

It made him sad to see Aai cry. Yong Joon never cried, not even when all the boys got together and teased him, ‘Yong Joon, Yong Joon / Come from the moon? / Give Yong Joon a whack / He will surely go back.’ 

‘Tell me what your name means?’ he would ask the others, desperately hoping they would fail this test. 

‘Pollen grains,’ Parag 

‘Matchless,’ Atul 

‘The Sun,’ Mihir 

‘Fragrance,’ Saurabh. 

‘And you? What does Yong Joon mean?’ they would ask in return. 

‘Why should I tell you,’ defiantly. 

‘Hah, you don’t know what your name means!’ would be the mocking reply. 

This would be followed by collective sniggering that often ended in fisticuffs. 

*** 

‘Aai, tell me what my name means,’ Yong Joon wasn’t going to give up today. 

Sarita knew her cute little baby was growing up into a confused little boy; he was slowly drifting away from her and she would lose him some day at this rate. His father was long gone from her world but she would do all to keep her son, come what may. 

‘Come, let’s watch this together today,’ Sarita said, sliding the Winter Sonata CD into the player and pulling her son him onto her lap and into a warm embrace. 

Today she was going to tell him about his father and the meaning of his name. 

___________________________________________________ 

  (To those confused about the nature of this post, let me reiterate: this is a Short Story, a piece of fiction)

     

Let us marvel at Bae Yong Joon waving to us in flesh & blood and not as a statue frozen in metal or stone

 

FANS are a demanding lot. The more of yourself you give to them, the more of you they want. This is especially true of us die-hard fans of Hallyu (Korean Wave) star Bae Yong Joon.     

– We see his films and dramas over and over again, and we analyse and drool over his every gesture, look, expression     

– We buy BYJ souvenirs – key chains, T-shirts, calendars, cards… – regardless of our age     

– We capture his handprints and treasure them on drinking mugs and on walls     

– We eat his o-bentos or lunchboxes and go to his restaurants     

– We happily buy products simply because he has endorsed them     

– We blog about him, and then we blog about those blogs     

– We even learn Korean because our hero speaks Korean     

– We travel to his motherland Korea, if we can     

 – We idolize him and see in him the embodiment of the ideal man (read the full paper on the topic – Junzi of Confucius and Archetypes of Carl Jung in Baeyongjoon – by Josephine Acosta-Pasricha here).     

 – We rush to see him in 3D so that we can savour the feeling of actually reaching out to him     

Clearly, we cannot seem to have enough of our precious idol. To some of us, indeed, a statue of our revered icon would be the next logical step (the original review of the BYJ 3D event here, in Japanese. Read the English version of the same here).     

But this is going a bit too far, even for an incurable fan like this one.     

We admire BYJ for his many qualities that inspire and motivate us, but mainly because he is generous and gracious and warmhearted and REAL. He is inspiring not because he is perfect, but because he is constantly striving for perfection. We are happy simply because he is there.     

So let us not deify him and invest him with superhuman virtues. Let us NOT try to capture and confine his likeness in metal or stone so that we can stand beside it and click a few photographs to carry home with us.     

Let him have the freedom not only to be kind, compassionate, forgiving… but also, like the rest of us, the liberty to make mistakes and to feel and express anger, disappointment, pain…     

Let us love him that he is, and LEAVE HIM BE.

IT’S official. Bae Yong Joon is an ajeossi.

Wait. Before BYJ fans condemn me for saying this, here’s the complete story.

*****

Like every year, last summer too my 12-year-old niece visited us for the holidays. And, as always, I had a great time re-living my childhood with her.

‘Masi, who is this,’ she asked one day, pointing to the photographs of BYJ on my computer.

‘Bae Yong Joon. He is a South Korean actor,’ I said.

‘Hmm, why do you have soooooo many of his pictures?’ I knew this was coming.

How do you answer this to a 12-year-old? So I took the easiest way out and told her the truth.

‘I like him,’ I said.

‘I see,’ she murmured, still absorbed in the pictures, as if trying to figure out what I liked so much. After much contemplation, she seemed to have made up her mind.

‘I don’t like him,’ she said with finality.

I had expected that. She is at an age when she doesn’t like ‘boys’ simply because they happen to be boys. Little does she know that this will soon be followed by a phase when she will think of nothing but boys.

That I thought was the end of the matter.

Later that day she came and sat next to me and whispered in my ear.

‘I have a confession to make.’

‘Yeah, tell me,’ I tried to sound nonchalant, secretly wondering what the matter was.

‘Masi, actually, I think I like BYJ,’ she grinned.

‘His ponytail is reaaaaally COOL,’ she added, deigning to admit that there could be something nice about ‘boys’ after all.

I knew this would happen.

We spent many hours happily talking about and bonding over BYJ.

All too soon, summer had run its course, schools were about to reopen, and it was time for her to return to Delhi where she lives with her parents. But my birthday falls during the holidays and, as she always does, she had made a card for me.

‘Wish you a Baery Happy Birthday,’ was the sweet message.

All year through we kept in touch on phone and on the Internet, sharing our thoughts, our little secrets, and our disappointments & hopes. Then, recently, I visited Delhi for a few days.

When she started out one day by saying ‘Masi’ in that soft conspiratorial whisper, I knew it was confession time again.

‘Masi, look at these pictures, I really like Taylor Lautner, don’t you think he is wonderful?’ the words came out in a rush.

I made no reply; it was safer to just spend time poring over the photographs, this time on her computer, and listen patiently to what she had to say.

Great, I thought. Apparently she had got over her “crush” on BYJ and moved on to guys more her age…

But there was more to come.

‘Don’t think you can have BYJ all to yourself now,’ she warned, reading my mind.

Then, thankfully, she added, ‘I still do and will always like Uncle Joon.’

UNCLE JOON!!!

I doubled up with relief and laughter.

WHAT is the recipe for making your country’s cuisine popular abroad? Asking your most popular actor could be one. And if that actor happens to be Bae Yong Joon, you may well be justified in doing so. The gentleman has restaurants in Korea and Japan, but that is not the only reason why BYJ has people, especially women, eating out of his hands!

The Korean Wave heralded by export of Korean drama has expanded to interest in other aspects of Korean culture as well, especially in Japan, China and South-east Asia. In India though, a mention of South Korea usually brings to mind Samsung, Hyundai and LG rather than Jewel in the Palace, Emperor of the Sea (both of which have been shown on Indian television) and Winter Sonata (which has not). As for Korean restaurants here, they can be counted on the fingertips.

So what would help to popularise Korean food in India?

For one, a vegetarian like me would like to know how I can get hold of something like the staple Kimchi without fish paste in it.

But for starters, showing Winter Sonata on TV here would definitely help.

PS: Has BYJ hurt the fingers of his left hand? The way he is holding his hand in the picture with South Korea’s First Lady Kim Yoon-ok seems to suggest so.

September 2017
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