Back when I was a student in medical college, in the trauma section of one of the textbooks, there was a photograph of a child with its buttocks scalded raw.
According to the book, this wasn’t a particularly rare thing to see in a burn unit, and the usual explanation is that the child sat down in a bucket of hot water. According to the book, this is something that almost never happens in real life, so it should immediately arouse suspicions of child abuse.
Well, actually, it does happen in real life. It happened to me.
I was at that time very young – I must have been less than three and a half years old, because my grandfather was still alive. It’s not my earliest memory, but it’s one of the earliest.
It was a hot and sunny day, just short of noon. My dad had bought a goat’s head from the butcher’s and was dissecting it out in the yard, and I was a very interested spectator. Meanwhile, my grandfather was preparing for his bath.
In order to comprehend what happened next, one needs to understand the (now thankfully long extinct) process by which men of my grandfather’s generation bathed. They’d first strip down to a dhoti or lungi – a cloth like a sarong, worn around the waist – rub themselves over with mustard oil, and sun themselves for an hour or so. Then, they’d take a bucket of hot water and pour it over themselves, without the use of any soap. That was their idea of a bath.
Anyway, so there I was bending over the fascinating goat’s head dissection, when someone put something down just behind me that I saw only a shadow of, out of the corner of my eye. It looked to me like a low cylindrical stool of the kind we used to use back then, and without a second thought I plonked myself down on it.
It wasn’t a stool. It was a bucket of boiling water, all ready for my grandfather’s bath.
I remember a white hot flash of agony, and I think I remember screaming. The next thing I knew, it was late afternoon, and I was lying in bed, sedated, and looking out at the yard where the goat’s head still lay, half-dissected. My arse was cooked, but good.
That’s why that book doesn’t know what it’s talking about.