In Jake Halpern’s “Secret of the Temple,” we learn right away that in Kerala, India, things don’t work the way we’re used to:
Deities can actually own property in India, though the law treats them as minors and they must be represented by an official guardian.
The differences don’t stop there. The center of this piece is the story of a temple that could hold treasure almost beyond imagining — and the general resistance to unlocking the doors that might conceal it.
In spite of the area’s poverty and the immense riches already found in the temple, local sentiment seems to be to leave well enough alone. Halpern also introduces a smaller, parallel story, common in India: A historian shows him a box he inherited. His grandfather had kept his most valuable possessions in it. The historian had not opened the box.
I’ve always considered the urge to open things to be a general human trait. Any five-year-old knows, two minutes into the story, that Pandora will open that box, or that Bluebeard’s wife will unlock the forbidden door.
But maybe the inability to keep things shut isn’t a general trait. After all, the Westerners who created these stories were immigrants and settlers, people who, for one reason or another, couldn’t leave an acre unexplored (or unexploited). Maybe we are culturally – and, possibly, genetically — predisposed to open boxes.
Just like the tales of Chinese people meeting the challenges of modern life, I love the possibilities this idea opens for a world that’s different from the one we have today.