STILLS FROM KOREAN DRAMAS 'REPLY 1988' AND 'WHEN THE CAMELLIA BLOOMS'
I have always been a wild child in my family — a flint-eyed girl, the one who doesn’t tolerate the whims and fancies of friends, throws a fit now and then. Once I hid in my house because my parents wanted me to go to school, and stayed there for hours — eventually dozing off to the fuss I had created. With police on my doorstep and my search posters issued everywhere, I woke up from my slumber, unfazed and ready to pick a fight with them for bothering me.
After this episode, I was warned that my conduct wouldn’t be tolerated. I was often asked to flatter people or to resort to other fawning ways to stay in their good graces which, of course, I didn’t. Now one can commiserate with what my mom had to go through while raising me. Since my father was mostly away due to work, I was entirely brought up by her. My mother, a school teacher, surely had more pressing matters at hand than taking care of an obdurate child. She did a job so well that when I grew up, I was always guilty, ashamed and ready to run away. When I turned 18, I left my hometown and started living in Delhi alone. I had grown detached from my mother and there was no way I could fix that. But I did not want to sever ties with my mother. I loved her dearly. Just once, I wanted to act as a buffer between my mom and our awkwardness. While all of this was happening, I enrolled myself in a Korean-learning course (back in 2014), to learn something new and not gloat in my room. I began watching Korean shows in college only to kill time. I felt relaxed and was surprisingly nice to people. From romance to crime-thriller, soon, I was binge-watching shows like Uncontrollably Fond, The Heirs, Dream High, She Was Pretty and more.
But it was the 2015 release Reply 1988 that really affected me. Based on the parent-kid relationship and friendship, the show and its storyline, especially the bonds children share with their moms, had a deep impact on me. The thoroughly charming retro drama boasts a brilliant cast — Lee Hye-ri as Deok-sun, Ryu Hye-young as Bo-ra, along with other celebs. But it was the moms of the show (played by Ra Mi-ran, Lee Il-Hwa and Kim Sun-Young) that made me marvel at their performances.
While all the characters play their roles to the bone, I was personally impressed by the two characters and their acting capabilities: Deok-sun and Bo-ra. I was a lot more like Bo-ra back then — easily angered and annoyed. When Bo-ra left her home and shifted to a hostel to prepare for bar exams, her mom Lee Il-hwa began crying. Parents feel a crushing pain when their kids leave home. Wiping her tears, worried Il-hwa stands there still, as if numb, and stresses over her well-being. It’s not that Bo-ra doesn’t feel any emotions, she hides them and can’t show them. Take a look at the scene here: https://youtu.be/amjHSdDS17AI was reminded of my mother while watching the scene. I knew that no amount of papering over could fix the mess that I had made while growing up. But I didn’t want to give up. Frazzled, I picked up my phone and rang her. She answered. “Hello, kya kar rahi ho beta? Khana khaya? Achaar ke saath khana kha lena agar accha na lage to.” (Hello, what are you doing my daughter? Did you eat? Eat your food with the pickle I gave if you don’t like it). The apathetic me was ready to break down. I could feel her eyes that always lit up on seeing me, her ever-so-sweet voice. I could also feel her breath. Repressing my feelings, I said, “Ha kha liya, accha tha khana.” (Yes I ate, the food was nice) when I only had Maggi at a nearby stall. We ended our conversation there. I wanted to say so much but couldn’t gather the courage.
There were many instances while watching Reply 1988 when I could empathize with my mother. I had offended her many times with my brusque behaviour. When I left home for college, I forgot that my mother would be forlorn after I am gone. I didn’t even bid her a proper goodbye and left. But I realized all of this when I saw other girls talking to their moms for hours. I felt as if something was missing from my life — the presence of my mom.In Reply 1988, when Kim Sun-Young’s mother-in-law was holding her responsible for her son’s death and was cursing her, she remained unperturbed for a while and then broke down. “You know, I’m someone’s precious daughter too. If my mother knew I was subjected to this kind of talk from someone, I’m sure she’d cry tears of blood. At the very least, for my mother’s sake, I won’t sit by and listen to you talk to me like that anymore,” an agitated Sun-young said. In my home as well, I saw my mother running to bring everyone food, washing clothes, reading us books, going to work, managing kids and that too, with a smile. She had breakdowns too, but she dauntlessly held her head high. I later understood that, in those times, she would also need a friend to talk to or to share her worries — and that friend could have been me!
Our mothers have always blamed themselves for our mistakes. They have cursed themselves for failing to raise us right. In one of the scenes of When the Camellia Blooms, Sang-mi's (played by Ji Yi Soo) mother feels frustrated to see her daughter not getting along with her husband. Their marriage was on the verge of divorce. Her mom was deeply affected by this decision. When she left her husband’s home in anger, Sang-mi’s mother (played by Hwang Young-Hee) was waiting outside. She said, “Just leave him if you want. Don’t live for me, and do as you want now.”But the indignant Sang-mi screams at her mother, taking out her frustration on her and says, “I’m not off to die, you know. Are you showing off your strength? Are you in debt to me? Is that why you are being my mom?”. Her pitiless words broke her mother. In the next scene, she is seen crying sitting by herself, whimpering, saying, “What did my baby ever do wrong? If there’s anyone to blame, it’s me.” Children, even after receiving nine things, ask for one more. Parents are heartbroken when they don’t have one more to give even after giving ten; even though parents keep giving and giving. They always feel like they are in debt to their children.
Korean shows season you. They are absorbing, aggravating, and ultimately empowering. They are based on real topics that surround human beings — issues in life, the hectic office life, mother-children relationship, and kids with autism. Korean dramas motivate you to take a break when the present generation is cooped up in their rooms. They focus on the intricate relationships mothers share with their daughters. They teach you to smile more.
When my attempts to resurrect my bond with my mother weren’t yielding any fruit, I asked her to come and stay with me. I wanted to try everything that I had seen in those shows — go shopping with her, enjoy golgappas, take her out on a dinner date, and go to the movies. I wanted to make up for all the ill-treatment. So when she agreed to come and stay with me, I decided to make the most of our time. We were trying to get along, one day at a time. When things got rough, we would watch shows together. That was mostly me trying to yoke the broken pieces together.When we watched Summer Strike, Crash Course in Romance, and My Mister together, I felt a sense of reassurance. I felt as if someone had given succour and strength to me.Mending broken bonds takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. The realization itself took years and then more years were spent in making efforts. I remember while watching Summer Strike last year, my mother was rather mournful. When the lead actress loses her mother unexpectedly in the show, my mom was brought to tears. I caressed her head and said ‘Sorry’. I knew I had to. I wanted to say sorry to her on behalf of all the kids who have wronged and misunderstood their mothers. As kids and teens, we were irresponsible and irascible, and after growing up, we never had the time to ruminate over our mistakes. Life changed drastically for us, but it stopped for our moms and dads. We left homes to build a life and career, while they stayed there waiting for us to return.
I now celebrate my mom’s birthday, send her gifts and order dabbas for her just so that she can store lots of stuff without complaining about space. I bought her coats and long skirts (inspired by outfits of Korean mom characters) so that she stops considering herself a hillbilly with no fashion sense. You have to be a paragon of patience, just like your parents were while raising you, and enamour them with love because ‘When you are feeling blue, only moms come to the rescue.’ Follow Apeksha Verma on Instagram.