Writers note: Etukaal is the Tamil word for a spider; deriving from ‘Etu’ meaning Eight and ‘Kaal’, meaning legs.
A great family of Etukaals lives in the corner of the bathroom of Rajah’s house. There’s grandfather Etukaal, with his thin long hairy legs, and Zazen Etukaal, the eldest son and now the head of the family. Next to him on the great wide web, which is their home, are Zazen’s two children, Roshi Etukaal and Dogen Etukaal.
The home of the Etukaal’s is a network of webs that stretches all the way from the top of the ceiling to a point just above the hole where the bath water drains out of the bathroom. It’s built layer upon layer, being widest at the bottom. Each layer is as fine as gossamer, if not finer and almost invisible. You knew it exists only because of the dust that collects on its edges and makes it look dirty brown.
The web had been built originally by Grandpa Etukaal, the family patriarch.
He lives at its centre, at the point where the mellow pool of light falls, and where most of the insects hang, trapped and dead. His son Zazen Etukaal hangs from an intersection of the wall and the asbestos partition, while the two grandsons sit at the edges where it’s most filthy.
Although Grandfather Etukaal isn’t actually the biggest in size in the family, the way his head, body and legs are positioned makes him appear larger than he is. His body and his head are buried deep inside his legs in the manner of a stamen hidden inside its petals. He sits for most of the day in this position. Just thrice during the day he moves, once early in the morning and again late in the afternoon; on both occasions for a walk. And once when he has his lunch. At this time he stretches a thin long leg out and pulls a dead fly that lies trapped in the web in front of him. He contracts and expands several times, all the while eating the fly ever so slowly. When he is done he goes back to his relaxed seating position, the one he has been in all day.
Grandfather Etukaals’ posture and manner is in direct contrast to those of his grandchildren who live at the corners of the web. The heads of both Roshi and Dogen stand high above the layers of the web. Their eyes are always peering over the edge in anticipation of some new ant or fly that sits or walks briefly on the wall or the asbestos partition. When this happens [or even if there is a hint of any movement], the two Etukaals fly across the web and onto the wall, only to discover that it is very often a false alarm. Then they get back to base, but only for a short while, for soon the next coming and going excites them and they are dashing out again.
Noticing their restlessness, Grandpa Etukaal called his grandchildren to him one day.
“Roshi and Dogen” he said, “come here, I have something to give you.”
The two grandchildren flew across the web as soon as they heard their grandpas voice.
“What is it Grandpa?” asked little Roshi who got there first.
“Look what I have got for you,” he said, holding a dead fly for Roshi in one thin long leg.
“And what about me?” asked Dogen.
“Why, here is a piece for you too” said Grandpa to Dogen, holding another dead fly out, “but before I give both of you these delicacies, I would like you to listen to a story. Will you?”
“Why not Grandpa,” they said, “What’s it about?”
“About the art and importance of sitting, looking and waiting.”
“Sitting, looking and waiting Grandpa?”
“What’s so important about them?”
“Aah! For that you will have to listen to the story first. And sit still for a while,” said Grandpa.
Did Roshi and Dogen have an option? Especially when they knew a choice bit of fly awaited them if they obeyed?
They snuggled up close to Grandpa and waited for him to start.
“Sit still my dear Roshi and Dogen and look carefully” said Grandpa.
“Look at what Grandpa?” chorused the two little ones.
“Look,” said Grandfather Etukaal, “just open your eyes fully and look. Look at every strand of silken web closely and look at the way the sunlight falls upon them.”
The two grandchildren were puzzled by what Grandpa said, especially as they had not done something like this before; yet they obeyed him.
They looked up and saw a ray of sunlight appear through a hole in the asbestos roof. From where they were, the ray appeared like a bright star. It shot through the ceiling and fell on one edge of the web turning it into beautiful strands of silver. Dogen and Roshi watched and even as they did so, the ray swept across the web, inch by inch, turning every part of it silver, in a slow ripple.
“It’s like watching a slow Mexican wave,” shouted Dogen excitedly.
“Yes it is,” echoed Roshi… but what else now Grandpa?” he asked sounding a little bored.
“What else,” said his grandfather, mocking the tone of his grandson. “Look longer, sit here for the next half an hour and look longer and deeper at the strands of web.”
“Well just sit still, look and don’t do anything else.”
The two grandsons looked puzzled on hearing granddad Etukaals reply. They had never sat at a place for more than five minutes at a stretch and their legs and minds were itching to move. They couldn’t understand for the life of them what could be got by just sitting still so long and looking.
“It could be very boring just to sit Grandpa,” said Roshi.
“Well has it been boring so long?” asked Grandpa
“Not exactly, but… for longer?” asked Roshi
“Don’t worry, it won’t be boring. In a short while everything will change” said Grandpa, “but remember to look and sit absolutely still.”
The two grandchildren didn’t want to sit a minute longer, but since they had promised Grandpa, they decided to endure this for some more time. They just sat for the next two hours and looked as Grandpa had instructed them to. They saw that the sunlight, which had been silver in the morning, slowly became golden and then mellowed to a soft yellow. Then little patches began to appear on the web; alternating patches of darkness and sunshine. These patches moved in waves across the web like it does when clouds race across a field of rice on a sunny day.
“I told you things would change, soon it’s going to be windy and you won’t be so bored,” said Grandpa Etukaal, sitting motionless at the center of the web.
“How did you know Grandpa?” asked the little Etukaals.
“The web and my body tell me everything.”
“The web and your body? What do you mean?” asked Dogen, puzzled.
“Look at me,” said Grandpa, and Dogen and Roshi looked. Grandpa sat motionless, as he always did. His eyes were wide open, his head and body were still; the body lying buried deep inside in constant contact with the web. The legs protruded upwards and outwards each touching a different part of the web; not a hair on them moved.
“When you make your body still and in contact with the web like me, you can tune into the pulse of nature. Then you begin to sense things around you, which were always there but which you may not have noticed till now. Tell me, did you not notice the sunlight and the way it danced on your web just a few minutes ago?”
The two grandchildren nodded.
“And wasn’t it beautiful?”
Again the grandchildren nodded; they couldn’t disagree as there was truth in it.
“It’s a beauty we never see in all the rush of our daily living, yet it’s there in the simple things around us if only we sit and look long enough. When the sunlight danced across the web a few minutes ago, I knew it was because of the clouds racing overhead; and when there are clouds like that, it means only one thing—strong winds will always follow.”
Even as he spoke the web trembled. The wind began to blow and it lifted the web and dropped it… and lifted it and dropped it again.
“What is going to happen Grandpa?” said the two little Etukaals, with a frightened look on their face.
“Nothing—and trust me you will enjoy it. Come sit next to me” said Grandpa. The two grandchildren snuggled closer to their grandfather. At first the wind blew lightly and the cobweb rippled. Then it blew over the backs of the little Etukaals and moved on. The sun came out for a while and shone brightly on the web. But just when it was beginning to get warm, the little Etukaals felt the wind on their backs again. It was delightful to feel the alternating warmth and the cool of the wind. Nice and warm one moment and cool the next! It played about the Grandchildren’s’ faces and tickled their furry bodies. The little Etukaals enjoyed it.
“What is going to happen next Grandpa?” they asked.
“Just sit, watch and feel everything,” said Grandpa in his sage manner.
The wind blew down, this time in strong gusts. It lifted the web and dropped it. Up and up the two little Etukaals went one moment, and down the next. The little Etukaals had never experienced something like this before; it was like being on a trampoline or a roller coaster. The wind became stronger with every passing minute, and soon the little Etukaals had their hearts in their mouths, while grandpa sat cool as ever. The little Etukaals were so scared that they set their heads against the wind and made a dash to their corner of the web.
“What are you doing and where are you going,” asked Grandpa Etukaal.
“To fight the wind.”
“Fight the wind?”
“Yes grandpa, otherwise we will get thrown off and smashed to bits.”
“Don’t even try. And you won’t get smashed or anything of that sort.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t, but the wind does. It knows exactly how much you can withstand. For 20 years it has blown though this web and not once has it thrown me.”
As grandpa finished, the wind dropped again.
“Did you enjoy it?” asked Grandpa Etukaal.
The little Etukaals looked at each other for a moment. They had been scared and shaken up by the wind, but come to think of it they had never had such fun in their lives. And as grandpa had said, the wind hadn’t smashed them to bits.
“Yes we enjoyed it, although we were quite scared Grandpa,” said the little Etukaals.
“And did you have to do anything to enjoy it?”
“Yes, you did—you had to sit still,” reminded Grandpa
“But Grandpa if we just sit still all day,” interrupted Dogen, “how can we take care of our day to day living… our food?”
“Just sit still a little longer and you will see,” said Grandpa
Even as Grandpa was completing the sentence, the wind blew one last time against the asbestos. It sent little insects, which had been racing
along the roof flying down through a hole in the asbestos onto the web. First a fly fell, then a small bug with its wings still open and then an ant. They dropped onto the web exactly where it was the stickiest. Grandpa watched as they
struggled and fought to get out—and failed in their attempts. Then there was a last blur of wings and all was over—they were dead.
“That’s the answer to your question,” said Grandpa, “when you sit still, many things happen by themselves.”
“But don’t you have to make an effort?” asked little Roshi
“Yes you do. For example, I do my part—I keep the web clean and add a little sticky substance from my spinneret onto the strands of the web. And then I sit still and wait and watch. Then nature does the rest. Nature seems to know what exactly I need and every time the wind blows, a few insects always get trapped. And now tell me little ones, did I have to run anywhere to get them?”
“No Grandpa, you only sat and waited.”
“That’s it my little ones, that’s all you have to do. But alas…”
The little ones nodded; they had understood.
And so Grandpa Etukaal reached out with a thin hairy long leg and picked up two flies that had just fallen on to the web and gave one each—just as he had promised—to Roshi and Dogen.
This article was first published in June 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.