Book Review: At Sea with Uncle Ken by Ruskin Bond

Rusty lives in Dehradun with his mother and Uncle Ken. Being the only brother of his five sisters, Uncle Ken is spoilt well beyond a limit. He is bumbling, humorous and madly inclined at eccentricities. If he isn’t looking for troubles, then troubles find him unwittingly. At sixteen Rusty graduates from High School and his mother plans to send him to England. For his mother, Rusty a little too young to make a voyage to England alone, so she assigns the duty to his brother, Ken.

Rusty’s grandmother pays Uncle Ken’s ticket, in a sense it is a free trip for him. While going to Bombay by train, accidentally Uncle Ken picks up someone else’s spectacles which cause him nearsightedness and as a result he takes the stationmaster for a porter and instructs him to look after their luggage.

Having tight on budget, Uncle Ken and Rusty stay at a sleazy hotel where they share the toilet with twenty other people. It is turning out to be an unpleasant experience for Rusty. Before boarding the posh P&O Liner, Uncle Ken remains sick and pukes out several times. On the ship Rusty goes all over the deck to observe people and keenly watches the surging sea; however, Uncle Ken is down with seasickness and prefers to remain inside. Rusty befriends an Indian fortune-teller while Uncle Ken is struck by the beauty of a blonde.  The blonde hails from Australia, heading to London to pursue a career in music. She plays piano at the lounge. Uncle Ken doesn’t like Classics but he still keenly watches her performance and practice sessions. Soon they become friends.

When the ship anchors at Port Said, they both go ashore leaving Rusty back on the ship. In the evening all passengers on board the ship except his uncle. From the girl Rusty comes to know that Uncle Ken was separated at the busy market. When the ship leaves the port, Rusty deciphers a figure frantically waving at the ship: it was his uncle. Rusty reaches London safely without Uncle Ken as his chaperone. There Rusty lives with his aunt and works for four years before returning to India.

Upon reaching the Dehradun railway station, Rusty finds Uncle Ken waiting for him. There he explains about his days and struggle that took place in Port Said. Uncle Ken first worked in a Greek restaurant and then as a tour guide at the pyramids. Having caught without papers, he was sent to Aden where he taught English to a son of Sheikh. From there the Sheikh’s son went to England and he got the ticket for India. He remained lost for two years.

Back in Dehradun Uncle Ken proposes a plan to start a poultry farm in partnership with Rusty but Rusty refuses knowing that Uncle Ken never sticks to one job.

Rollicking with humour ‘At Sea with Uncle Ken’ by Ruskin Bond is a light and delicious read.