6 JUNE 1992, Page 13

If symptoms

persist.. .

I FIND the English a dispiriting lot on the whole: so few of them have aspira- tions or a desire for self-transcendence. They have no ambitions; instead, they daydream, usually of a banal state of secure and effortless comfort. They despise success, excellence or even endeavour, taking only their footling entertainments with any seriousness. Last week, a schoolgirl came to me because she was being taunted at school for her stupidity. Her schoolmates regarded her as stupid because she was clever.

It is. a relief in the circumstances to turn to immigrants from India and Pak- istan. They at least have goals in life; they are also politer and better-behaved. But the shame and honour scale of val- ues they have brought with them from the subcontinent leads to problems and to tragedies of its own.

A young man came to me last week in fear of his life. To get into hospital, where he knew he would be safe, he had feigned a suicide attempt. He soon con- vinced me that he had not exaggerated the danger he was in.

He was a Muslim. Two of his friends, a boy and a girl, also Muslims, had escaped their respective parental homes so that they .might live together. They were in love, but were of different castes, and hence their parents did not approve of their liaison. The parents of both the boy and girl suspected that my patient had helped to plan the couple's escape, and demanded that he repair the dam- age to their families' public reputations which the elopement had caused (the happiness or otherwise of the couple simply did not come into it). The demand was reinforced by highly credi- ble threats.

Eventually my patient set up a meeting between the girl and her parents. By arrangement, her mother took a small overdose to get into hospital, and the family met by the bedside, supposedly neutral ground. The family appealed to the girl to redeem the family honour by returning obediently to its bosom, but she could not and would not forgo the chance of happiness with her lover, and therefore refused. As she left the hospi- tal she was kidnapped by her own broth- ers, who took her by force to a city 200 miles away where, locked up in a house belonging to friends of her parents, she would be unable to bring further shame upon the family.

Her lover and my patient went a day later to the police to report her missing. The police acted with commendable decision: they arrested her family, and one of her sisters, scared out of her wits, gave the police the address where the kidnapped girl was held. A few hours later, the couple was re-united, though not happily, for they now have to live as clandestinely as members of a terrorist organisation.

As for my patient, his ordeal is far from over. To have involved the police in this matter brought infinitely more shame upon the family than aeons of the girl's misery would have done. The only way to restore her family's honour was with my patient's death; and if ever he is murdered, it will probably be with the approval of all right-minded people in the community.

Theodore Dalrymple