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BTS army and the joys of being part of a fandom

Being fans of the same thing, like Jungkook fans Nishita and Kamakshi, is to double your enthusiasm

RM (right) with fellow BTS member Jungkook, who recently turned 24.
RM (right) with fellow BTS member Jungkook, who recently turned 24. (Photo: Instagram/BTS.Jungkook)

On 1 September, Jungkook turned 24 and in dozens of countries, what is known as the Army celebrated the birth of their shimmering god—the youngest member of the Korean band BTS. Media around the world wrote about his mother’s conception dreams. She had dreamt of golden rain and seven piglets before he was born, we were told. Could anyone have dreamt that one day Chinese fans would plan hundreds of light-and-sound show drones in the skies of Seoul for a good-looking Korean man? Or that Indonesian fans would adopt 4,000 turtles in his name? And if somehow you had predicted all this stuff of creation myth, tell me, would you have imagined a happy birthday billboard would go up in the middle of Indore, Madhya Pradesh? Billboards went up in the Ukraine and Jamaica, so how particularly wholesome could the billboard in Indore have been, you may ask.

Hear the whole story, my sceptical friend. On the lovely billboard at the Palasia Police Chowki, Indore, those wishes to Jungkook came from “Nishita and Kamakshi”. Two more young fans? Not quite. Nishita is a young woman and Kamakshi, her late mother. As BTS fans from Madhya Pradesh tweeted, “Mrs Kamakshi was a beautiful person whose enthusiasm for the boys was unparalleled.”

I love so many things about this story. I loved that Nishita made sure that on the billboard the birthday greetings for the beautiful star came from Kamakshi the whole person, not Kamakshi her mother. I love that her fellow fans talk about her “enthusiasm”, scattering purple hearts all over the timelines.

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Is there anything more cheering than being around an enthusiastic person? I often think of how my worklife has been so enjoyable over the last couple of years because it has been charged and recharged by many enthusiastic colleagues and collaborators. A new song. A peacock on the office roof. Samosas. The artwork on a story that everyone has been slaving over for weeks. Tibetan medicine. Dancing. This week I talked to someone who enjoys ferry rides and cloud-watching and was considering joining a cloud-watching society. A fairly routine work conversation on a Friday was buoyed suddenly by her enjoyment of the world.

Being fans of the same thing, like Nishita and Kamakshi, is to double your enthusiasm, harnessed like two bullocks rattling a cart around with ease. It is a companionable state of mind that sometimes reminds me of that old leftie phrase—fellow traveller.

Quite the opposite kind of enthusiast is the tour guide variety. Once, on an office-sponsored excursion, my colleague and I were happily looking out of the bus window at the green forest we were passing through. Suddenly, my nature-loving boss appeared next to us and said: “Do you know the name of the tree? You don’t? You don’t?” We didn’t. We sourly wished him up on that tree though.

I am always ready to be a fan, usually of women passing through my life and men passing through my phone screen, both equally oblivious to my existence. Last week, I had an exceptionally brief fan experience which came from a YouTube algorithm that showed Anglophone movie stars speaking in other languages with ease. Thus appeared Viggo Mortensen, speaking quietly in seven languages—English, Spanish, Danish, French, Arabic, Catalan, Italian. I could not stop watching!

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Because I am the kind of enthusiast who has weaponised the WhatsApp forward, everyone I know was then assaulted by a stream of messages about the awesomeness of the polyglot Viggo, whom I had only vaguely remembered till then as a tattooed Russian gangster in a bathhouse. Then I looked at a lot of old photographs and read everything on Wikipedia and fell asleep.

Then, like the foolish yet hard-working third son in a Russian folk tale, I was immediately rewarded. Not with a pot of gold, or even seven piglets, but with a glorious dream of Viggo. This was only the second time that I ever remember dreaming of someone famous. I will refrain from saying who the first dream was about because it is too obvious. In this perfect dream, Viggo was working in a café, quietly wiping tables, quietly waiting for me. Needless to say, everyone I know got a second string of messages about the dream. I have equally enthusiastic friends, all of whom a) wanted to analyse the dream; b) urged me to go back to sleep for a sequel. But Viggo had passed on from my life, alas.

Being a fan of a celebrity can be such perfectly calibrated happiness—like being kissed on a bleeding lip. The pain, the pleasure, the briefness, the unlikeliness, the head-rattling beauty. It can make you cut off the strings attaching you to this boring earth and float off in search of fellow cloud-watchers and Kamakshis.

Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.

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