Before leaving Uttarkashi for another trek, this time to Dodi Tal, I decided to buy antiseptic cream, considering that the tube my grandmother lovingly gave me before I left expired in 1996.
The market in Uttarkashi is lined with pharamacies, so I figured the whole mission would take about 10 minutes. Into the market I went, where I located the first pharmacy (Parvati Memorial Clinic) and walked up the stairs.
"Namaste," I said. "You have antiseptic cream?"
The pharmacist stared at me.
"For cuts and scrapes?" I tried again.
He stared at me again, then turned to his assistant and said something in Garhwali. The assistant went over to a drawer and pulled out a tube for me.
"Oh, good," I said, turning the tube over to read the indications. "Oh, this expires in June 2007," I said, pointing to the expiration date. "Do you have one that will last longer?"
The assistant put the tube back in the drawer, and pulled out another one. "10/08," he said, pointing.
"Thanks," I said again, looking it over. And there it was, not even in small print: 'This drug has proven carcinogenic in rats and mice. Use in moderation.'
I handed the tube back to the assistant and thanked him. Back into the market I went and up the stairs into another pharmacy.
"Namaste," I said to the pharmacist, who sat behind the counter, sweating henna from his balding head. "You have antiseptic cream?"
"No," he said, shaking his orange-stained scalp.
"For cuts and scrapes?" I asked again.
"No," he said.
"You know what I am asking for?"
"No," he said. And that was that.
Back into market, this time to an ayurvedic pharmacy, where I should have gone from the beginning.
"Hello," I said to the man at the counter, who was talking to a his friend with a big smile.
"Hello," he said back. His friend smiled at me.
"You have natural antiseptic cream?" I asked. "Yes," he said, and handed me a tube. Sixteen rupees and no indications of carcinogens. Perfect.
As I pulled out my wallet to pay, the pharmacist's friend said to me, "which country belongs to you?"
Now it's fairly normal in India for a local person to say, within minutes of meeting a foreigner, "which country?" Sometimes they say it under their as they pass by a foreigner, without even saying hello first. But "which country belongs" to me?
"Well, no country belongs to me, yet," I said. "But I live in Israel."
"Very good, many Israeli live India," the man said.
"Yes," I agreed.
"Have a sweet," the man said, pulling out a ginger-flavored Halls throat candy and handing me my change.