E.V. Ramakrishnan is a bilingual writer who has published poetry and criticism in English and Malayalam. He is the author of three books of poetry, publishing each after symmetrical intervals of fourteen years: Being Elsewhere in Myself (1980), A Python in a Snake Park (1994) and Terms of Seeing: New and Selected Poems (2008). He is also the author of a landmark book of translations of modern Indian poetry. ‘Alzheimer’s Day’ highlights the pain and anguish of a man who could not find words for common things like a bed sheet or a newspaper.
The poem opens with the speaker’s indifferent mute response to the father’s question about the fat woman who is none other than the latter’s wife. The dementia or the brain disorder makes the father alienated from all the members of the family. That is why the speaker notices him passing by his wife and children into a land of his own but an alien one to others.
“He had gone past her,
past his children into a land
without birds or flags.”
The poet manipulates the literal situation in which he is passing by the members of the family to metaphorically describe his psychic alienation and his life in a word of his own. The disease has resulted in the collapse of conjugal harmony. He often said, “All right, let me go.” and once he went in the early morning but was chased by a pack of neighbours. He had then the vague sense of being held there against his wish. He was like a quarry being pounced upon by a pack of hounds who are the neighbours.
Occasionally he had some lucid moments when he wept for words he could not find for common things like bed sheet or a news paper. Alzheimer’s patients often experience the conflict between “vague” and “lucid”. The crucial paradoxical situation is brought about in the last line which reads, “All his life he had taught children language.” Dementia has transformed him into a child seeking language. Hence the irony of fate.