A.S.R. Murthy’s magnets from across the world are more than just souvenirs. They are a mine of information

A.S.R. Murthy is drawn to fridge magnets. But he is extremely punctilious in deciding which ones make it to his magnet display boards. Flower, animal or any of the other common magnets don’t stand a chance, because he does not collect them in the first place. These boards are reserved for magnets with images capturing elements of world history, polity, geography, heritage, culture and science. Of greater significance is the fact that they were collected during his travels to 57 countries, 112 big cities and many more less-known places.

In his house at Anna Nagar, three metal boards — made from doors of discarded refrigerators — display around 150 magnets. “They are from countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, Middle-East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa,” explains the 57-year-old. Having served Sarjak Container Lines in China and West Africa and a distributor of Bajaj Auto in Nigeria, work has made international travel possible for Murthy. However, the majority of his international tours were undertaken on his own. Murthy’s peregrinations in faraway lands started in 1999, but it’s only from 2004 that he began to hunt for magnets.

“Not picking up a magnet from my visit to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp to be set up in Germany, is one of many regrets,” says Murthy. But, from a magnet of Bradman from the Bradman Museum in Bowral and one of Stonehenge picked up at Wiltshire to a 2D magnet that compares the Seoul of 1950 battered by the Korean war with the modern Seoul and one that portrays the A-Bomb Dome at Hiroshima, what he has is quite staggering in their range.

“In the Western world, even remote areas that have something to offer the tourist, will have a restaurant, a wash room and a souvenir shop. While going on a tour of Windsor Castle (in Berkshire) and Oxford City, we stopped on the way at Wiltshire to take in the grandeur of Stonehenge. As a surprise, magnets of the prehistoric monument were available in a shop not too far from the site,” says Murthy.

Besides keeping the memories of his travels alive, the magnet souvenirs are among factors that help him stay tuned to current affairs and history. Tidbits of information found on these magnets encourage him to dig deeper for knowledge. Looking at a magnet of ‘1000 Islands Bridge’, which serves as a link between Ontario and New York State, he begins to talk about his cruise on the St. Lawrence river and how the Maple Leaf was fluttering in some of the islands and the Star-Spangled Banner in the others. “These islands are administratively divided between the United States and Canada,” says Murthy.

Similarly, showing magnets of Kremlin (Moscow), Capitol Hill (Washington D.C.), the United Nations headquarters (New York City), Giant’s Causeway (Northern Island), Mount Nebo (Jordan), Tiananmen Square (Beijing), Tehuacan (Mexico), Royal Observatory (Greenwich) and the other places he has visited, Murthy gives a commentary of their history and significance.

Another collection by Murthy that stokes his curiosity about history is: currencies from 184 member countries of the United Nations and three non-member countries.