A short story
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It was on the 19th of June 2021, as my dog was barking at the pigeons in the balcony, that I decided that I had no choice but to kill Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He, more than any other, has done his utmost to cheat me out of my hard-earned achievements. He has frequently plagiarised my most original thoughts and passed off my most inspired insights as his own. Mark Twain must die.
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Shankar first brought the matter to my attention in October 2005, although his motive for doing so was different and hardly favourable to me. After I finished my talk at the Tanglin Club on the geopolitics of alcoholic beverages a member of the audience, perhaps another engineer, asked me how it was that I appeared to be so knowledgeable about concepts from political science when all I had studied up to then was electrical engineering. When I replied that I was careful to have not allowed NTU to interfere with my education, Shankar who had thus far been sitting in the last row covering himself with smugness suddenly reanimated himself, shook his head condescendingly and declared that those were, in fact, Mark Twain’s words. At least some people in the room were less impressed now. I felt something precious had been snatched from me. I had acquired that insight from my late nights in computer rooms, canteens and corridors of the campus and paid for it in bad grades. I had honed it by reflecting on things outside the curriculum, observing my early bosses and learning what not to do and, more recently, reading The Economist every week cover-to-cover and Frontline to get the counterpoint. At the time, it was one of the most important things I had figured out in my life on my own — so much that I had recorded in my journal in February 2001 — and to have it attributed to Mark Twain, in such a public setting, was injury and insult combined.
That night I looked it up on the internet and duly found, on the authoritative website of Twain Quotes that although “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” has been attributed to him, “until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.” Another site suggested that he might have picked it up from a little known early nineteenth century American novelist. But I knew better. He had lifted that quote from me.
In the following years I found several more instances where he had passed off my insights and witticisms as his own. He was not the only one though, as I found Ibn Khaldun, Ganesh Vasudeo Joshi, Alvin Toffler and Richard Lannoy had also taken words out of my pages. But Twain seemed to have made it a habit. And he took the best. The one on how we discover our previous ignorance as we grow older, for instance. Or how abstinence is such a wonderful principle that we should abstain from total abstinence. Sometimes he cleverly changed a single word to completely change my meaning, as when he claimed “All gods are better than their reputation”.
I tried to counter-attack by coining the word “twainism” and use it as a hashtag on the then newly emerging social media networks. A twainism (noun) is the feeling you get when you discover that someone else, usually Mark Twain, has already had what you thought was your original insight. I was content to leave it at that but for the man’s dastardly attempt to steal even this idea. The man had the gall to claim, in November 1903, that it was “a favorite theory of mine…that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often.” You will agree that this left me with only two options: either to put up with shameless theft of all my past, present and future ideas or to put an end to Twain’s criminal enterprise by taking his life. To a person who earns a living by hawking thoughts and words, there was no choice at all. Twain had to be stopped.
His memoirs were out by then, so there was a fairly good way to locate him in time and space. I had to get him early in his career before he could do more damage to mine. Going through his autobiography I found out that Samuel Langhorne Clemens was in Carson City, Nevada in early 1863 and first adopted his famous pen name in February of that year.
I had some difficulty in making travel arrangements because I did not want to do so under my own name. The Irish-Malayalee syndicate is the best, but because it is used by sentience smuggling gangs, tends to be under intense surveillance of our authorities. The Chinese triad is considered pretty robust too but given my widely published views on their core imperator I thought it would be wise to avoid coming under their tender loving care. That left me with the Allium Cepa network, which promised neither speed nor reliability but claimed to be as surveillance-proof as technology allowed. The round trip was inexpensive but tedious, requiring me to lose a few kilograms of weight and leave my spectacles behind.
I arrived in Carson City at 10:14am on February 1st, 1863. It was a Sunday, and the town was quiet. I got dressed and set out to look for young Clemens. I got some strange looks, but not too many, and I suspect people thought I was Spanish. With some difficulty I procured, by felonious means, a Colt Root 0.28 revolver with four rounds in its cylinder. After a further hour of enquiries I discovered that Twain would be at his digs that afternoon before heading out for a big party later in the evening.
I knocked on his door a few minutes after 2pm. There was no response. I waited for a quarter of an hour before knocking again. There was no sound from inside. I thought of blowing the lock open with the Colt, but decided against it as it would put him on guard and the attract attention of his neighbours. Also I was unsure if four bullets would be enough to finish him off. I had never fired even one before. So I called upon his housekeeper (or landlady, I couldn’t tell) to check on him and see if he was okay. She didn’t understand that word but got my point, and after knocking his door and calling out to him a few times, used her key to let us both into his chambers.
I followed her first into some kind of a living room and then into another room which appeared to one where he both slept and worked. There was no sign of him anywhere. It was then that I noticed the sealed envelope on his desk and got the inexplicable feeling that it was meant for me. This is what the enclosed letter said:
“February 1st, 1863 Carson City. I am leaving this here in case I do not get back. Given the purpose of my journey I am forced to travel using dubious means. Last week I came to the conclusion that I have no choice but to kill Aristocles of Athens. He, more than any other, has done his utmost to cheat me out of my hard-earned achievements. He has frequently plagiarised my most original thoughts and passed off my most inspired insights as his own. Plato must die.”
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