In the dimly lit room, I sat huddled under my lamp as my fingers repeated the rhythmic movements of the needle disappearing and reappearing under the banarsi fabric while I carefully folded its edges, taming the wayward golden threads to patch it over a hole burnt in the citrine mysore silk lehnga (a wide-hemmed skirt). Accentuated with hundreds of golden sequins and zardozi work on its hem, shining whenever it caught the light of the lamp, the eight and a half yards of fabric seemed like a jeweled sea at my feet. Trying to be as quiet as possible, I imagined the joy I'd see in my sister's eyes who had gone to bed a while ago crying her eyes out over a dream dress gone to 'irreparable' disaster the night before Eid.
Tying off the final loose thread, I held it up to the light, proud how her lehnga sparkled even more than before and quietly delivered to her room. Salvaging the day for my sister was a risk worth taking.
The next morning as my sister fawned over the new design, came the reaction I was bracing for.
"Is this what you were doing all night?"
I could hear the disdain in my father's voice, disappointed over his son's 'feminine inclinations'. Something that has always gotten me in trouble with him, from ditching my toy cars to play with Barbie dolls to being too interested in my mother's makeup.
"He's going to become a darzi (tailor) when he grows up!" my friends would snicker at my craftiness with the needle and thread.
The pressure of fitting the stereotypical gender roles followed me everywhere - my teachers' snickers at declaring pink my favorite color, my friends' expressions when I talked about facials and manicures, and my mother's horror on spending more time organizing my wardrobe by color than playing in the street.
The world that put clear lines between pinks and blues; barbies and hot wheels; being well kempt to manly ruggedness, had me confused. The overwhelming external stimulus was telling me that to fit in and to be accepted I had to hide my true self and mirror what is expected of me.
I tried to fit in, suppressing the fragments of interests resurfacing ever so often, to avoid eruption of ridicule. I brushed my passions away like pieces of leftover fabric.
Just like that night when restoring my sister's dream brought my thread and needle out; my dreams broke to the surface again standing in front of the school notice board. My gaze fixed on the poster announcing the male modeling competition; I was already choosing between khaki chinos with crisp white Italian slim fit dress shirt paired with a sleek navy blazer or a black skinny necktie.
As I filled in the form, I could imagine the field day of sly sarcastic jokes on my effeminate ways. But filling in that form was my catharsis - signing my name was my defiance to carry on a charade to hide my true self.
Winning the competition took out some of the sting from the jokes but it wasn't until a sense of liberation set in as the scissors of society's disapproval lost its sharp point. And while my father's disapproval still makes me falter in my tracks but I'd rather have him realize that I can be his son and still be my true self instead of trying to become someone neither of us would recognize in the end. The slightest glimmer in the corner of his eyes as I brought in my awards tells me that my hope is not displaced.
So, one after the other I collected stowed away pieces of myself that didn't fit the society's approval and using the thread of resilience I sewed them together for the fabric of my being to become a true reflection of everything I am and aspire to be.