The idea to buy a fridge magnet as a souvenir originated during my first solo holiday trip in 2021. Specifics elude me but I believe I was visiting a tourist sight in North Goa when I first stumbled upon a series of shops selling overpriced artefacts. A few of these shops had a metal-surfaced wooden board at the entrance that displayed fridge magnets of different sizes and shapes. Those palm-sized colourful, crafty panels with magnetic backs that don designs similar to those found in holiday postcards of the bygone era. Many of these variants had the word Goa etched onto them, a quality that struck me the most. Why not buy one as a reminder of this trip? I thought, though in retrospect my inability to remember where exactly I bought my first fridge magnet from is ironic. Plus, it’s not like I didn’t know what a fridge magnet was; just that I was not exposed to it as a rare traveller.
And so started a custom to seek out fridge magnets every time I visited a new place. Thankfully, fridge magnet displays are a common sight in most tourist places unless you are in Ahmedabad or Daman. Since that trip to Goa, I have collected a handful fridge magnets during my travels (including during the maiden international one). Slowly, the habit of seeking out shops that sold fridge magnets while exploring a new place grew on me.
I realized the custom had turned into a borderline unhealthy obsession only when I failed to buy a fridge magnet when I was in Ahmedabad for a friend’s wedding. None of the sights we had visited had shops that sold souvenirs except for a temple that had fridge magnets with its deity’s shrine and name on them. It is possible I missed the shops because we didn’t visit all the tourist places and markets. I gave up the hunt soon but on our way back home I briefly thought of asking the friend who got married to buy one for me later if he chances upon a shop but then I decided against it. He had better things to do. I also thought of asking another friend who hails from Ahmedabad and lives in Mumbai to get me one but I realized that would not cut it. The custom was personal.
I was fairly confident that I would find one in Ahmedabad considering it is the most populous Gujarat city. Not to mention that it’s a tourist magnet for those visiting Gujarat for the first time. My regret of having not bought a fridge magnet was only mild. Instead I had sweet memories of the visit, a return gift from the wedding, and general bonhomie to reminisce about the trip. Never did it cross my mind to maybe get something else as a souvenir, which troubled me a little days after the visit.
Why was I focusing only on a fridge magnet when there are hundred other things that could be bought as a souvenir? It seemed like I was trying to adorn my fridge with all these magnets to feel proud about my own wayfaring. I didn’t want to earn social media credits, but low-key enjoyed joking about the need to get a new refrigerator because we’ll soon run out of space. The Ahmedabad episode soon died on me as I got my first ceramic, unbreakable fridge magnet the following month from a duty free shop inside the Maldives’s Velana International Airport. It is the most ($5) I have paid for a fridge magnet, even compared to a designer one I got in Ooty. It was as easier to get one in some places as it was impossible in others. For instance, fridge magnets are abundant in Goa. In Coimbatore, you need to describe what it is first.
The obsession reignited in Daman recently where I had rented a scooter to get to the tourist spots. Not one place had a souvenir shop and online guides directed me to the famed DMC market. On my last day in Daman, I took a quick detour to this market with a glimmering hope of finding a panel that memorializes Daman’s black sand beaches. The detour was a waste of time.
I had taken at least two such detours the previous day, again all in vain. One store had what looked like it needed an identity description, the worst type of fridge magnet there is: a miniature wooden box containing three bottles depicting a crate. No text, no finishing, no commemoration. It’s the type that exists to wean off people like me from the custom of buying fridge magnets wherever we go. I’m certain that that single piece will perish without finding a new owner.
Anyway, it’s this futile hunt for fridge magnets in Daman that helped me realize something else. It’s not just the magnets or the pride in seeing them stuck to my fridge that makes me happy and chides me to travel more. It’s also the effort taken to acquire them. I’m right in describing this effort as a custom because that’s what it is. The serendipity of finding a souvenir store when I’m not actively looking for it, the pleasure of finding a beautiful one, and its careful handling so that it doesn’t break till it finds its way to my fridge’s door and clings to it peacefully are what the effort is all about.
I’ll continue to seek out fridge magnets on my trips but I may not feel bad if I don’t find one. By the way, has anyone looked at the economic relationship between fridge magnets and refrigerator sales the same way they did and found some correlation between men’s underwear sales and recession?