Brown Is Redacted: Our Existence Is Beauty

From Brown is Haram (2020)

Sometimes, I’ll take a trip from the north to Geylang Serai market to purchase bunga rampai—Malay potpourri—from a rather garang makcik. I love the scent of the flowers and the pinkish liquid she would squirt from a bottle all over the flowers. I asked her once what it was made of and she didn’t want to tell me—maybe it’s a secret recipe, who knows.

I started using bunga rampai as a natural air freshener thanks to my mum. While commonly used as part of Malay wedding customs, she would randomly pop into my room and hang a pouch of bunga rampai on the window. There was something comforting about the scent.

When we had the first Brown Is Haram workshop-performance at The Substation in 2020, Kristian and I made bunga rampai, which we gave to the attendees. Now, we’re launching Brown is Redacted together with our friend and director, Myle Yan Tay. An anthology by minority writers, it is based on the second rendition of Brown Is Haram we performed last year.

We wanted to continue looking into pieces that feature brown joy. Navigating your identity as a minority can be rather exhausting, but there’s so much beauty in the customs and languages we’ve grown up with. There’s wisdom in the hidden, in our culture that we may not understand until we’ve grown older.

Flowers remind me of a story my uncle told me about my late great-grandmother. She was a single mother of one when she met my great-grandfather. “I was gorgeous! I would wear kebayas and always had a flower tucked behind my ear. That’s why your grandfather fell in love with me,” she told him. I laughed when I first heard the story, but wondered if I would ever gain her confidence.

I love seeing young Malay women donning their traditional baju kurung and kebaya during Hari Raya and Indian women in their beautiful saris during Deepavali. It is then we remind ourselves our existence is beauty, and that our beauty has always been there. That our existence has always been revolutionary, and we’re here to stay. 

Brown Is Haram and Brown is Redacted were formed from friendship, care and love. I hope it gives you the same warmth, understanding and love that it has given me over the past two years. 

Sampai ketemu lagi (Till we meet again),
Mysara Aljaru
Co-editor of Brown is Redacted: Reflecting on Race in Singapore


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