Got a carpenter to do some work for us a few years ago, a smiling articulate sort. In the middle of the job, he vanished for a few days. When he returned, he was full of apologies. "I've been roaming the whole of Gujarat," he told us, "me and my uncle. We were looking for the son of some relatives of mine. He has run away from home with a girl. When we find them," he said with a hint of pride, "unko jaan se maar daalenge" ("we will kill them").
When we got over the shock of hearing these violent words from this usually genial and bantering fellow, we asked, why? "Hamare khandaan mein yeh love-marriage shove-marriage sab nahin chalta hai!" ("We don't allow love-marriages in our community!") I stared at him open-mouthed. He went on, "Yeh hamare khandaan ki izzat ka savaal hai." ("This is about the honour of our community." Actually izzat doesn't translate well; it is a word that means honour and respect and "name").
I asked: "Unko maar daalne se kya tumhare khandaan ki izzat badh jayegi?" ("If you kill them, do you improve the honour of your community?") He repeated quietly: "khandaan ki izzat ka savaal hai."
I've been thinking about the man in recent times. In Delhi last week, a businessman shot his own daughter dead because she married a man she fell in love with. His own daughter! No mention in the reports of khandaan, but I have no doubt the word izzat was buzzing around in his fevered mind.
How do you shoot your own daughter?
And not long before that, the actress Khushboo got into the bad books of the protectors of what you might loosely call Tamil izzat. She had the temerity to suggest that premarital sex was OK, and the virtues of virginity at marriage are overstated.
Boom! Here was an attack on Tamil culture and values! Once, Tamil film fans took to Khushboo so much that they actually built a temple to her. But now, she was abusing Tamil culture by condoning premarital sex. She had better return to that non-Tamil place she came from, whichever it was.
Hey, if premarital sex rubs Tamil culture the wrong way, I'm willing to bet it's being rubbed the wrong way hundreds of times a day in the leafy lanes of Chennai alone.
People do what comes naturally -- fall in love, make out, that sort of thing -- and you can be sure there will be others who feel dishonoured. Others for whom some apparent "culture", something called "khandaan ki izzat", matter above all else. Matter so much that they are willing to rage against a much-loved star, willing to kill much-loved family members.
This is "izzat"? I'll take the dishonour, thank you.