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Lego Joy

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on May 02, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

My sister in Connecticut has two grands. For the purpose of this column, I shall call them D1 and D2. I’m not sure why I persist in this cloak-and-dagger business of shielding names and locations. Perhaps it’s from my early life as a child-spy?

But never mind that distant story! This one is about D1 and D2 and the gorgeous Christmas present a friend gave them in 2020. It’s a 10,000 piece Lego set of the Taj Mahal. The finished model is 16” tall with a 20”x20” base. Eight-years-old D2 is an accomplished Lego-naut. He loves nothing more than to break down and rebuild his existing models to make hybrid masterpieces. His sister D1 is almost 10 and has outgrown Legos but she adores puzzles and mental challenges.

Together, they threw themselves into the task. They knew that it was meant for older builders — “16 to 60” says the promotional material — but they tackled it anyway. A photograph shows them sitting at my sister’s glass-and-chrome coffee table, their young faces set with determination. The entire base of the model is complete. As with the real-life building, the giant base takes one’s breath away: In our mind’s eye, we see the soaring dome, but rarely notice the base.

It’s just so huge, and there are so many repeating elements. The sheer tedium of constructing all those identical panels must have been a torment. Most Lego models provide quick relief: Bright sharp bricks click together with satisfying precision, so that in under an hour little houses or rearing dragons can be conjured out of... well... the box! But with this model, even after several days of hard labour and a brilliantly designed instruction manual, the end is not in sight.

Enter the Great Aunt! When I arrive at my sister’s home, the project is still on the coffee-table. The minarets are in place. But with the eight-sided main-building and dome yet to go up, the intrepid young builders need a little push. On Saturday afternoon, a day before I’m due to return to Elsewhere, I call in the troops. “Let’s DO this!” I say. “D2? You and I will make the arches. D1? You’ll supply us with materials and make arches too!” Of course, we’re all properly masked.

By evening, the octagonal first level is DONE! The next day, as we raise the second storey, D1 takes over as Madam Overseer. “My brother and I will build the top platform,” she informs me, “but you come back for the small domes, okay?” Okay! Everyone grabs a quick lunch. Four small domes go up in record time. Now the main dome! Madam Overseer and I organise the pieces into little containers. Then she doles them out to me and D2, in sequence. Lickety-split, first one side, then the other, then two more — and the spire — and it’s DONE! Eight hours from base to dome! A monumental pleasure for all to see.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on May 02, 2021

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