«The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is a juxtaposition. Everyone does it and we tapped into the aesthetics and beauty that could be found in book covers to appease the customers»
19 February, 2021. Located in the corner of an alleyway on Kampung Attap street is the Zhongshan Building is a site repurposed under the Think City project based in Kuala Lumpur. The building hosts a community of creatives, business owners alongside art and event spaces. On the second floor of the building is Tintabudi, a bookstore encapsulating literature covering art books, essays and discourse on art theory, humanities and philosophy. The bookstore was founded by thirty-three-year-old Nazir Harith Fadzilah. «Functioning in the nook of the city center, Kampung Attap is a seclusion away from the hustle and bustle. The Central Market is across the main-road, and spaces co-exist in Zhongshan. There is a bakery, a café, a silkscreen-printer and an event space». On his path of education at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, pursuing a degree in electrical engineering, he initiated his first bookstore in the year 2015. An effort to inculcate and encourage locals, focusing on the Muslim community, to read Islamic philosophy and theology. This was the reason behind the opening of Sea Without Shore. His first bookstore operating online, it utilized social media. Fadzilah was faced with an issue of penetrating the reading scene in Melbourne. «Australia has reached stagnation when it comes to book reading. I could not find books in Melbourne that focused on Islamic philosophical and theological literature». Fadzilah says that while his intentions remained, he could not sustain his project, stating «I was not integrated in the market there, even in the Islamic community. It was a struggle to get individuals to pick up a book to read something they were not interested in». Intending on keeping his vision afloat, he proceeded to move back to Ipoh, his hometown located in northwestern Malaysia. «I had laid out a plan for when I moved to Malaysia, while I was operating Sea Without Shore in Melbourne. Plotting the name and the books I was going to carry; I was going to have an inventory with an umbrella of genres to attract customers». The name ‘Tintabudi’ can be broken down into two words in the Malay language. «The literal-meaning to ‘Tinta’ is ink. Budi on the other hand, brings forth the meaning of intellect. For example, ‘budiman’ in Malay translates to gentleman. Tintabudi, if translated would bring forth the meaning of intellectual, penned out thoughts, as per the titles we carry in store». The name in Malay is an homage to the locality and the country’s national-language. The heart of ‘Tintabudi’ to Fadzilah is an enterprise that holds and covers human philosophies and its humanities.
Returning to Ipoh, he partnered with a collective that was native to the Ipoh art scene, Projek Rabak. Under them, he was given a table at the space where they sold books. «When I came back to Malaysia late 2015, I brought with me an estimate of one-thousand genres and titles from Melbourne. They were from my collection». The formation of Tintabudi was an effort to expand his list of books to read. «In Melbourne, I was buying, reading and selling the books to get by with reading». With this and his ardor to share what he finds piquing, Tintabudi’s objective was to narrate and vehicle ideas and books to the public. He adds that selling his collection of books as a business model was a road to tread on. «I did not want to let go of the books I had collected over the years». It was a step he had to take to sustain himself and the business. The foundation of Tintabudi was fortified by the exchange of one book to the next, where Fadzilah sold his collections to make a living, buying second-hand books from the locals around the area. Operating at the end of 2015, «we were posting pictures of books in a flat lay on social media». The books that he carried have front covers that have maintained their condition till date. «The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is a juxtaposition. Everyone does it and we tapped into the aesthetics and beauty that could be found in book covers to appease the customers». He explains that while the content of the books remains, the exterior is what urges an individual to select the book and make a purchase. They have since sold books at fares, utilizing booths over Ipoh and made trips to Kuala Lumpur, selling at exhibitions. Realizing Ipoh was not quick to accept them, they were presented with an opportunity to collaborate with Zhongshan in Kampung Attap street. «Rent was one of the reasons why we were not hasty in moving to Kuala Lumpur. When the people from Zhongshan came to us, they had been following our work. They offered us a space within the building and rent was affordable».
In July of 2016, Tintabudi had set themselves up in Kuala Lumpur, utilizing the space and setting a foothold in the independent-bookstore scene in Kuala Lumpur. The generalization to the Malaysian reading culture is biased. «Malaysia has a reading culture. Reading is an activity done in solitude. It is a matter to gauge. The consumption of movies and music can be comprehended through virtual formats. People go to the cinema or concerts to partake in these activities». In the early years of Tintabudi, Fadzilah exchanged stories with the customers. He applied this ethos, building a space with book titles for readers to congregate, share and learn from each other within the four walls of Tintabudi. A number of affairs take place in bookstores, it is a social gathering of like-minded individuals who intend on expanding their world views. Prior to the pandemic, Tintabudi hosted bi-monthly book reading sessions. «We discussed a book each session, including anyone who wanted to partake in this event. While we charged the patrons for this event, it was a way to encourage sales for the store. Customers are prompted to buy the book that we discuss for the week». Tintabudi partakes in forums and talks, with book readings as a culture, they encourage their regulars and newcomers to write and develop opinions between each other. Applying his experience from working within the food and beverage industry, he says that is how he has learnt to approach and handle customers at the bookstore. «The food and beverage industry involves customer service. I apply this approach into the bookstore. It has been a learning curve». Operating alongside one staff member, this five by ten-meter store is arranged to grab the attention of its customers. A table, repurposed from a production company that is no longer functional, in the center of the store are a means to showcase a number of titles. The shelves of books are not arranged in a set order. Prompting guests to steer from one genre to the other. The reasoning behind this was to invoke a journey when it came to choosing a book to read or buy. The bookstores that coexist alongside them came about the same time they started. The choice to carry books in fiction and non-fiction, art books and journals in the subject of humanities has helped them subsist, curating and weaving their way into the culture.
The selection process is second nature to the owner, he says «While I have a passion for reading, I cannot afford to consume the books that are available for purchase in store. I read internet forums and gloss over book catalogues in detail. I rely on the feedback I get from my customers». There is knowledge to be gained from customers on what they want to read and have on display. «When we opened, we carried a handful of titles written by women authors. Without the help from the customers, the library would not be as inclusive». Sixty percent of the books carried by Tintabudi are sourced online or via book agents, and forty percent are used books from customers who sell it back to the store once they are done reading. Maintaining this as a form of sustainability and carrying a limited-number of copies for each title and not using paper bags, Tintabudi has commissioned their friend, a wood maker who has since come up with a quantity of book stands made out of repurposed-Nyatoh wood. The bookshop acts as a publication, publishing their first poetry book, Blooms of Fire by Malaysian author, Hafiz Hamzah. Working alongside a translator, Ede A Hamid, they translated the poetry from the Malay language to English to cater to the masses. Acting as a platform for creatives, Fadzilah is working to publish titles from around the world under the Tintabudi name. Having worked with KLoé Hotel, based in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Tintabudi has designed and curated a hotel room for the ‘Artist Loft’ line of rooms under the hotel’s name. Tintabudi is surviving amidst a pandemic through online platforms. Interested in taking on upcoming projects for the future, Fadzilah is eager to take on challenges in publication and expand the Tintabudi name.
80B, Jalan Rotan