‘Tacit Birds’ review: An ode to the Bangladeshi spirit

In the pages of Tacit Birds, former Bangladeshi Brigadier General Abu Bakar Siddiquee brings to life a collection of profound moments in tales of a land where dreams, struggles, and destinies intertwine.

Siddiquee’s stories are more than narratives; they are living canvases painted with words. With poetic precision, he captures fleeting times and emotions of life his country, weaving them into the very fabric of powerful prose.

His stories begin energetically exploring the people and diaspora of the land of lush river deltas formed by the Ganges and Brahmaputra; he puts the stories of their journeys and days in elegant, often exquisite prose.

Siddiquee excels in portraying the ephemeral, in creating tantalising images within reach that often recede for the reader providing at once and intimate and distant gaze at the moment. In discrete gossamer threads, Siddiquee’s stories become entangled in the mind of the reader by beautiful design and poetry connected through mind tunnels that give the impactful narratives an indelible intensity and, at times, an awe of the immense power that a succession of short stories can hold.

The former military man is careful with his words, his prose is a touchstone of brevity and economy of terms. “I serve for bread and butter. You serve for honor and prestige.”

He possesses the rare ability to convey deep emotions and complex themes in a few carefully chosen sentences; you get the sense that to Siddiquee, every word matters: “I am a poet. My work is to feel the emotions and to express them poetically. This is my urge, and this is my morality.”

Despite their brevity, the people in Siddiquee’s stories are vividly drawn and multi-dimensional. He often uses subtext and minimal dialogue to reveal the inner workings of his characters’ minds, allowing readers to connect with them on a profound level. Here he is describing the loss of a fortune-teller’s ring: “Abdus Sobhan and the fortune-teller were taken aback. They gaped at each other. Ignoring their wide open eyes…”

His short stories come across softly, but pack a powerful emotional punch. Here, Siddiquee stories evoke a wide range of emotions, from intense joy to profound sadness. The brevity of his format intensifies the emotional experience for the reader. “Cold! Fear! Or the reaction of my mortified conscience!”

There is a kind subtlety in his writings, In a few words, he paints vivid scenes, creates mood, and captures the essence of a moment. “In the morning hours the farmers are found tilling the field…the fishermen remain busy in the tricks of fishing; the boys and girls pluck the violet flowers of water hyacinth; village women collect the stalk of water lily or leafy vegetables…”

Over two decades ago, already a noted poet, Siddiquee was in the 11th century city of Ohrid in North Macedonia in the Congress of World Writers Organisation as a poet, essayist and international novelist, a laureate event held amid Saint Sophia’s ornate religious frescoes.

It took place in the context of the Poetry Evenings festival in nearby Struga which showcases both national and international poets and has become one of Europe’s preeminent literary events that has had the participation of Nobel laureates, along with notable international writers who found in it a rare platform during repressive eras.

The international air and relevance of Ohrid and Struga in literary and poetic circles continues to grow. Among distinguished participants over the years were Joseph Brodsky, Pablo Neruda and Seamus Heaney.

For the past six decades, Siddiquee has been a poet, playwright, literary figure, and accomplished storyteller. Renewed focus on his work Tacit Birds, originally written in Bangla and now available in English, Siddiquee continues channeling the power of the written word to create wonder.