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Jhalak was a saree connoisseur. With a mere touch, she could instantly detect what material a saree was made of. She knew how to drape them in various ways and her pleats were always crisp and neat, much to the envy of her childhood friends. Jhalak became an expert by the time she was ten.

This was all thanks to her aunt, who owned a small textile shop near her school. Instead of going straight home, Jhalak would spend a few hours with her estranged aunt, and quietly observe how she explained the quality of each saree to customers. Jhalak loved the way the cloth caressed her skin. For her own sake, she would only wear modest blouses that went down to her hips, and she sewed them herself to make sure her back would be covered as well.

Her father, though, had not approved.

They were an orthodox, joint family that embodied certain stereotypical ideologies, such as "boys will be boys". This led to a debate on the kind of clothing Jhalak should wear. She had constantly insisted that she dresses modestly, whether she donned a saree or shalwar kameez.

That does not matter, they said. What if the saree loosens around your hip, and your flesh at the waist is exposed? Then it'll be your fault if a boy grabs you!

With no mother or sisters, she had nobody to see her point of view. Her father, brothers, and uncles simply did not know what to do with her.

When she had her first period at twelve years of age, she had no clue what was going on. Fearful at the sudden sight of blood, she ran to her oldest brother.

But I did not cut myself down there! How did this happen?

She vividly remembered the look of pure disgust on her nineteen year-old brother's face, who had ignored her question. Instead, he raced into the house. The blood had oozed down more heavily, and she struggled down the dirt road as she ran to her aunt. Her aunt had frozen as she narrated the tale.

Did you tell anyone else about this? She had hissed at Jhalak.

I only told Omar. But he didn't help me.

Her aunt had suddenly remembered why Jhalak had come to her. She had quickly grabbed an old cloth and instructed her to wrap it in a particular way.

Without another word, her aunt had gripped Jhalak tightly and kissed the crown of her head. Jhalak had felt her aunt's tears through her dupatta and onto her scalp. She had not understood why her aunt was crying.

But that was over a decade ago.

Jhalak was now in a new city and had a steady job. She learned to do things on her own without any aid. Despite this, she still was not happy.

She did not like her working conditions, especially the night shift, but she had no other way to provide for herself. She worked tirelessly twelve hours each night, her back became stiffer with each shift. At any rate, she believed she was fortunate enough to still be employed. Many people aimlessly roamed the city with not a penny to their name.

Jhalak scoffed to herself as memories of her first day came to her. She had worn a handloom cotton saree, neatly draped over her left shoulder with perfect pleats. She had taken her time combing her hair, and had wrapped it into a sleek bun at the base of her neck. She remembered that she had inspected herself in the mirror and was actually satisfied with how she looked. She presented herself to her employer.

He had laughed in her face. Did you think I was looking for an air hostess?

He had strode over to her and, to her horror, ripped off her saree. Before her mind could process what he had done, he rummaged through his drawer, pulling out a very sheer, black chiffon saree, and loosely draped that over her shoulder instead.

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