Geetika, Rachna and Mahima find themselves trapped in an unhappy marriage at certain points in their lives. But they don’t turn sour or resign to their fate. They don’t resort to passive aggression or self-destruction. Instead, they lay claim to their lives and happiness. In my opinion, this is the essence of Shalini Mullick’s novella collection, Stars From The Borderless Sea.
Novella 1 – Sayonee (Soulmate)
Geetika, a royalty, was thrust into an unhappy marriage by patriarchy and customs. Following her family traditions, Geetika marries, Vikram, an erstwhile king. The novella depicts how a gentle Geetika turns her life around despite many tragedies shaking her up. So, what keeps her going? Her platonic relationship with her college sweetheart, Shekhar. The novella shows us the incredible transformation of Geetika from a meek princess to a strong entrepreneur. Along her journey, she never loses her grace or elegance.
Novella 2 -Humsafar (Companion)
Rachna, a doctor, had started her marriage on a happy note. A terrible tragedy soon strikes, and her husband turns emotionally distant. A distraught Rachna is almost on the verge of a breakdown, and an unexpected relationship helps her return to life. This novella talks about how Indian men are raised to hide their fears and vulnerabilities. Once her husband turns distant, Rachna tries to drive her life in a different direction. When she finds a hand to pull her up from her depression and self-loathing, she doesn’t hesitate to grab it. This novella also talks about how true love eventually overcomes fear and suspicions.
Novella 3 -Humraaz (Confidante)
Mahima is stuck in an abusive marriage. Her husband considers himself superior and entitled to Mahima’s obedience. She puts up with this for a while, but an eternally resourceful and hardworking Mahima finds a way out. An entry-level job in a shabby office becomes her passport to freedom and self-respect. Love beckons her at her workplace, becoming the cornerstone of her life.
The three novellas of Stars From The Borderless Sea depict love outside marriage, a subject that comes with a warning sign in Indian literature and movies. Our popular culture is eager to show how extra-marital relationships result in the doom of those involved. They often depict the characters melting in the crucible of self-loath and guilt.
I feel Stars From The Borderless Sea is a bold attempt to examine the construct of marriage in Indian society. But, does it normalize or glorify love outside marriage? While reading the book, this question never occurred to me. Instead, I was totally lost in the relationships, whether inside or outside the marriage. But when my socially conditioned brain started analyzing these stories, I felt troubled. The relationships in these novellas are beautiful, but they are outside the construct of marriage. Isn’t fidelity the holy grail of a marriage? But then, how could I enjoy these novellas very much?
To answer my question, I started thinking about the construct of marriage itself. What does marriage mean? Is it enough for a couple to live under a roof? Is it enough for them to have a physical relationship? Is it enough that they perform the domestic duties together? Raise children together? No, these aren’t enough. A marriage doesn’t become whole if the husband and wife don’t share an emotional connection. It doesn’t become a marriage when they don’t support or trust each other. When I kept my social conditioning aside and analyzed each story with the true definition of marriage in my mind, I was no longer troubled by the romantic relationships in these stories.
Stars From The Borderless Sea is not just about romantic relationships. It’s about how three women take charge of their lives and succeed. It’s about how unapologetic they are in the decisions they make. In a way, these three novellas are a bold statement to the society that expects the woman to feel guilty no matter what she does. Starting from not being able to cook three meals a day to staying away from home or pursuing a demanding career, women often feel guilt and pressure that men don’t. I had often felt this guilt, even when my family weren’t forcing it on me.
The character sketches of all the main characters are done beautifully. It has beautiful scenes where the reader will feel a real emotional connection. I wish some places in the novellas had more dialogues than plain expositions. All in all, Stars From The Borderless Sea is a great read that’ll leave an impression on the reader.
Dr Shalini Mullick is a Gurgaon-based writer and a practicing doctor, specializing in respiratory pathology. She is the recipient of the Orange Flower Award for Short Fiction in 2022, and for writing on LGBTQ+ issues in 2021. She was selected as Juggernaut Selects author for her e-single “Happily Divorced”. She was also one of the winners of the eShe short story contest. She has published 2 short stories each in the anthologies “Sharing Lipstick” and “Women.Mutiny”. “Stars from the Borderless Sea” is her first book.