Visiting a Family Heirloom

Posted: October 1, 2014 - 16:40 , by Deepali Dewan

Sophia Chowdhury (far right) with her sister Meena (second in from left) and the next generation: Aneesa (far left), Zakary (centre), and baby Anarah. In the ROM’s curatorial area with the dagger, August, 14 2014. Photo Deepali Dewan, posted with permission of the family.

In October 2010, Sophia Chowdhury contacted the museum about seeing a dagger donated by her father more than forty years ago. She had heard about it and wanted to seek out this family heirloom. Recently she returned, with the next generation of family members in tow, to revisit this meaningful piece. Because of her efforts the museum now has a fuller history of her family’s connection to this artefact, which is now part of its permanent record.

Here is some of her story. Sophia’s father, Qamar Zaman Chowdhury, was born in the village of Sylhet, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1941. He came from a military family, but he studied to become a geologist, and in 1967 moved to Canada to work in the Alberta oil fields. He also joined the Canadian armed reserves and is now a commissioned officer. To find a suitable life partner he went back to his village, and arrangements were made to find a wife. One was found in the Bengali community of Nottingham, England, and Qamar and Ruby (born in Sylhet in 1952) were married. The dagger now in the ROM’s collection (978.32) was a wedding gift from a university classmate, Rowshan Zamir, in recognition of the military traditions of the family. Qamar donated the dagger to the ROM in 1972, in order to preserve this special object for future generations. Military service is part of the Chowdhury family history and a part of the Islamic heritage of their Bengali Muslim community. Ceremonial daggers were traditionally given as wedding gifts. Qamar and Ruby went on to have three daughters: Sophia, Meena and Renu. Meena married Trevor Joseph Laframboise and had three children: Zakary, Aneesa, and Anarah. In August 2014, Sophia brought her nieces and nephew to see the family heirloom as, at least some of them, were now old enough to start understanding the family history.

Photograph of Qamar and Ruby Chowdhury on their wedding day, February 12, 1970. Photo supplied by Sophie Chowdhury.

Pesh-kabz knife and sheath, Steel with ivory grip and gilding, Bangladesh, Early 20th century. 27.2 x 4 x 6.6 cm. ROM 972.38 Gift of Mr. Qamar Chowdhury.

This dagger is a pesh-kabz, a type of knife that originated in 17th-century Persian and spread to Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. It features a decorative silver and ivory handle with painted lacquer colouring. While such daggers were formidable weapons, such ornamental ones were used primarily for ceremonial purposes.