Stars from the Borderless Sea (SfBS) by Shalini Mullick is a delectable read that grows on you and stays in your heart for a considerable time. This book is best savoured slowly rather than gobbled down in a hurry.
The contemporary novella comes as a breath of fresh air in our fast-paced lives where love, and other relationships, are increasingly playing a secondary role to the business of making a living. The book throws light on a new, more mature side of romance that is ordinarily considered forbidden and exemplifies that love is not about two people gazing into each other’s eyes but looking together in the same direction.
SfBS comprises three stories—Sayonee, Humsafar and Humraaz—which are independent of each other and yet bound by underlying threads of newspaper columns (extra marks from me for the author for reminding us of the routine of the morning newspaper in this digital age), strong women protagonists, all of whom have a flourishing career, and the strength that love outside marriage provides to their tumultuous lives.
Sayonee is the story of Geetika, an erstwhile princess and subsequently queen of a kingdom that doesn’t exist in post-British India. She is a practical person who came to terms with her ‘non-royal’ status while her husband Vikramjeet remains trapped in the royal memories of the past. The correspondence with Shekhar, whom she met and fell in love with during her first year in college, provides her with the courage and guidance to raise her two kids and become a trailblazing businesswoman after the death of her husband. In a foreign land now, she was satisfied with a life well-lived until a news column gave her a bolt from the blue.
Narrated in part epistolatory style, the format of the story is refreshing. The tale underlines that two people don’t have to meet or see each other regularly to remain in love; that true love endures separation, geographies, and time; that instead of hampering other relationships, it reinforces them. The beauty of the story lies in its narrative style. Even though I could predict the ending, it brought tears to my eyes because of how it is described.
Some of my favourite lines from Sayonee include:
\\ It was too early in the morning to guess if the son would find its way through the clouds.
\\ They just took in the distance life had put between them; a distance that seemed infinite yet non-existent. There might have been so much to say after so long. But there hadn’t been. There might have been tears or laughter. But there hadn’t been. There was a wholeness- a completeness- and the calm that it brought to both.
\\ They ate in silence, the cosy comfortable silence of people who share their daily meals. And life.
Humsafar, my favourite story of the lot, is the tale of Rachna, who is happy in her marriage with Rajat and her career as a paediatric doctor. But there is a brief past that she shared with Venkat, a fellow doctor, that now threatens to ruin her happy life. Humsafar shows how the seeds of lingering suspicion can potentially destroy a relationship. More importantly, it brings to the fore that true love is one without expectations, and one can love another in the present despite the knowledge of having no future together.
What impressed me most about the story is the character arc of Rajat. From a loving husband to a suspicious one to the one who realises that shadows from the past can only ruin the present, his character portrays a man that most women would like their real-life husbands to be.
Some of the lines that stood out for me include:
\\ But her recollection of old memories continued inexorably, rushing at her like an oncoming train.
\\ He had never felt so hurt. She had never felt so alone.
\\ They devoted themselves to creating the life they wanted and enjoying the life they created.
\\ It seemed as if all the roles she had played in his life- friend, lover, confidante, wife- had come together in the simple act of her walking down the stairs.
Humraaz, the last and, in my view, the boldest story of the lot, is about Mahima and her transformation from a frustrated housewife who had to give up on her career ambitions to a successful career woman. The love she shares with Sanjay, her first and only employer, gives wing to her aspirations and the strength to cope with what was a marriage of convenience for her husband, Pawan.
Humraaz is a change from the clinging type of love we typically encounter in movies. It shows that true love is about encouraging rather than limiting one another’s career ambitions. Mahima encourages Sanjay to go after his dreams even though that entails him going away from her. Distance is just a number in Humraaz, like in the other stories of SfBS.
Some lines that stood out for me:
\\ Wasn’t that typical of all our habits? Vestiges of our past, which we are too lazy or too sentimental to change; we kept repeating them until they become a part of us- our routine- and our subconscious, without our knowing why.
\\ It was strange how choosing not to engage could also be so exhausting.
\\ Falling in love was like falling into a routine. It was a new beginning in an old setting.
\\ ...they could be together in love but not in daily life.
Shalini Mullick shines in her debut novella. She has an underlying lyrical style to her writing that gives a poetic feeling to her prose. Mullick packs myriad emotions in a few words, leaving the reader satiated yet yearning for more. I look forward to reading a full-fledged novel from her pen.
Stars from the Borderless Sea would be a worthy addition to your reading list. Read the book to appreciate and savour the various shades of love and life.