xETTa An Obituary for an Internet Phenomenon
Love her or hate her – and the
majority of people who encountered her on the internet fell into the
latter category – xETTa was hard to ignore.
Who was xETTa?
Born 11th July 1981, her
real name was Mariam, although she preferred the nickname 'Cleo'
which she claimed her parents had given her, having particularly
enjoyed a holiday (honeymoon?) in Egypt. Her height of 5 feet 10
inches (178 cm), slim build and relatively fair skin colour
corresponded with her claim to part-Pathan (and part-Punjabi)
ancestry. Her education had been western-influenced and like many in
Karachi, the cosmopolitan city in Pakistan, her upbringing combined
often contradictory aspects of eastern & western thinking.
Against this cultural backdrop, this
highly intelligent young woman developed her own distinctive
personality, enjoying the production of theatrically gory photos of
herself. In about 2002 or 2003 when in her early 20s, she discovered,
as do many young Pakistanis, that the internet chat medium of
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was particularly liberating because of its
almost assured anonymity. Her approach to chatting however was
highly individual. Instead of seeking to make friends, she used her
finely tuned acerbic wit to lambast what she saw as the inane
witterings of the vast majority of other chatters. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, this strategy did not furnish her with widespread
popularity and she was banned repeatedly from innumerable 'channels'
(as IRC calls 'chatrooms'), further achieving 'autokick' status on
many too (i.e. being automatically kicked out when she attempted to
enter). Then she discovered #brit.
Welcome to #brit
The #brit channel had been set up in about September 2002 by a group of refugees from the #britain channel, dissatisfied with the autocratic and inconsistent style of that channel's founder. Led by Mike24 in Britain & layzboy in the USA, the new channel quickly established principles of open-minded and easy-going fairness. xETTa of course found herself banned for upsetting other users of the channel, but perceived a qualitative difference in the way that this was handled. Mike's sensitive & careful reasoning, readiness to listen, gentle humour and all-round diplomacy skills were markedly superior to those of most channel founders & channel operators xETTa had met before. She realised that this was a place where it was good to be.
With time, assisted by Mike's patience, xETTa gradually became more accepted by channel regulars. It should be said though that, right until the channel eventually faded away, there were those who never accepted her and who would leave the channel if she was there.
During that period of early developing
acceptance, xETTa supplemented her bombastic scorn for those whom she
held in contempt with tales of fantasy, seeing who she could take in.
These included confabulations such as her flat being on fire, and
revealing that she had been married but that her husband had been
killed by a snowplough. Some of us were taken in. When channel regulars were encouraged to set
up profiles, her photo featured a glamorous Pakistani bride in a
modern version of a traditional red & gold sari with a plunging
neckline and apparent Wonderbra support. There was considerable
debate as to whether it was really her, until she eventually
confessed that it wasn't, suggesting instead that it was her cousin.
Do you like goats?
One event which began to cement her acceptance amongst the #brit fold was when a relatively inexperienced male chatter from outside the channel started sending mindless private messages to a channel member asking sexually predatory questions. The #brit channel became operational headquarters as his inane private comments were pasted into the channel and different channel members started sending him barrages of messages designed to misleadingly encourage, discourage and essentially bewilder him. xETTa assumed the role of internet police, telling him she had evidence (through private messages he had sent elsewhere) of him making sexual advances to a (purportedly) underage member of #brit. It was one of the Indiana-based chatters, affectation, who first introduced the question “do you like goats?”. The mindless predator-turned-victim then found himself assailed from all angles with goat-related queries. Whether he ever returned to IRC is not known.
This episode drew on xETTa's internet
chat strengths: mockery and imagination. As a group effort, it had
the effect of team building, and xETTa was part of that team.
And so, happily ever after?
The following months & years saw an undulating development in xETTa's relationship with the #brit channel in general.
Her experience and skill as an agitator made her a natural leader for provocative joint expeditions into the rival channel #britain, amongst others, accompanied by with her new-found allies - franny, shicey & wildcatkrunch.
It wasn't all plain sailing for her however. Her well-practised skill of throwing out incisive jibes and sneers continued to provoke an exodus from the channel (which she claimed at different times either to be completely unaware of, or to be a beneficial purge) and to occasionally upset channel operators - those invested with positions of power. Inevitably further bans followed, some lasting several weeks. She always, indirectly, made it clear that she wished to return, and within the channel there was growing support for her, notwithstanding continuing despair at her repeated misdemeanours.
In February 2005, having being banned from #brit together with wildcatkrunch for repeated instances of “bullying and bitching”, xETTa and her co-exile set up a channel called #bullies n bitches. It was noticeable that the principal visitors to that channel were a number of #brit regulars and significantly some channel operators.
Perhaps partly to try to demonstrate
(to herself?) that she was a reformed charater, xETTa briefly
experimented with the nicknames 'karakush' and later 'Cle0'.
Get the message?
During her time on IRC, xETTa demonstrated the power of imaginative and skilfully-constructed vituperative eloquence, rising with dignified insolence above the commonplace, coarse and sexually-explicit language of others which she herself disdained. She also enjoyed describing her own nonverbal behaviours to convey certain succinct messages.
*xETTa rolls her eyes (= disdain)
*xETTa yawns (= I'm not the centre of attention and I really should be)
*xETTa sniggers (= I want you to know that I'm laughing about you behind your back)
The beast of #brit, as she was occasionally described with sardonic affection, was also known for occasionally employing her favourite greeting: “die!”
As she mellowed, xETTa would tell
others how Orange, the panda who sat on top of her computer, sent her
e-mails and indeed, occasionally sent messages to the #brit channel.
Others' claims that Orange was in fact merely a stuffed toy were met
with snorts of derision.
xETTa's first confidant on #brit was an apparently unlikely choice. Jehu was an Indiana-based geek with a rather unhealthy fascination with the spectacularly weird and deviant. She maintained contact with him for some time after his sudden disappearance from the internet.
Online xETTa formed a 3-way female friendship with half-Jordanian Scot franny (Melissa) and, surprisingly to many, Michigan-based trivia queen, shicey (Dawn). After franny's decision to abandon internet chatting, Cleo declared that shicey was her best online friend. Others labelled the two of them as long-lost twins, separated at birth.
There were many rumours of an internet romance between xETTa and Italian lothario, foot-fetishist & alleged plastic surgeon ^Gagarin^, who labelled her 'Cleohead'. From Cleo's point of view though, this was merely friendly banter. She regarded the idea of anything romantic between the two of them as contemptible.
Cleo's most significant online friendship was one which went almost unnoticed on #brit. In late 2005, Levski, aka Lev-UK helped her design a calendar for 2006 about 12 months of marriage. The two of them became regular communicators for the rest of her life.
The 2006 calendar proved prophetic. In
June of that year, xETTa married in real life, travelling to Thailand
(and, I think, Sri Lanka) on honeymoon. Afterwards she made plans to
set up her own business, arranging others' weddings. Her previous
professions had included interior decorating and working for the
Pakistani secret service. Well, that's what she told me so it must
xETTa posted prolifically on the Topix (Pakistan)
community forum between July 2007 & April 2008, where a fellow contributor
(whose nickname was by coincidence close to the one I used on IRC) described
her as follows:
"Xetta: A very entertaining person with her exceptional hinduphobic and Indofobic comments. She gives an appearance of being a suave, well read , stylish & a humorous individual. Probably works for an Airline or in a Hotel Industry and seems to be well off. Is a Punjabi and hates Benazir Bhutto and the Indians. She might compromise with some of the Indians but Benazir - Nope, Zilch Chances ! Positive points : A die hard Patriot who cant take anything against her country and religion ( also a reason I respect and disrespect her at times), is extremely bitchy ( in a positive way ) and doesnt blink and looks right in the eye of the tiger ( not Naga !- he is a cute pussy cat with an Ego and attitude) and a brave girl. Probably is in her 30's or late twenty's. Married. Feminine and not gay for sure and must be a great partner to the man she is with or going to marry. Will make a good mother to her Pakistani children who would want to make a career in Pakistan. The forum would be a boring place if she made an exit ( Bystander, Eagle, John would vanish for sure).
She is able to create a sexappeal in her personality which surely is positive and combined with her writings she is our own online version of Maliha Lodhi. Negative points : She is a theologist with a blind faith and thinks that Islam is science and makes the world move, a confirmed Namazi and compares every happening with the teachings of Qoran. Hates India and Hindus with a passion and is extremely jealous and intolerant of India's success. She also believes that India and Pakistan are in the same league and Pakistan is doing extremely good. Anything unIslamic is unholy for her - also a chink in her armour but as long she Pakistan based - it doesn't matter ! She would score a very high in EQ and would probably score 110 in a Mensa IQ. "
Her response to this was:
you ARE very berry funny!! this analysis is as close to the truth as a stranger on the web could determine about one's personna. i'm impressed. thank you kindly for all the nice things and the not so nice ones too :) unfortunately i'm not a regular namazi but i'm trying hard. also, my amma is a believer in all religions, she's been to churches across the world, synagogues, buddhist and hindu temples and she's prayed everywhere. she believes god is one and he is everywhere, he doesn't pick places and stick with them. if we believe the universe is his creation, we've also got to believe he's in every part of it.
yeh sub issliye because a bit of her has rubbed off on me. i hate hindus when they're fanatics, in the same way you'd hate muslim fanatics. but to each his own, kisi ka deen chero nai, apna deen choro nai."
A sudden ending
At the end of March 2008, not having heard from her for some time, I happened to send her an e-mail with a link to some pictures of the holiday I'd just had in Scotland with my wife. Knowing xETTa's professed hatred of this genre of photographs, I recommended that she viewed them as soon as she possibly could. I received an e-mail back from her on 11.30pm on 2nd April 2008 UK time – which would have been about 4.30am 3rd April Pakistan time as follows:
“life hasn't been treating me well edhead :) i've been very sick. but insha allah it shouldn't be too long before i'm perfect again :) your photos are taking forever to download! will point out the one i like the least once i've seen 'em all. love to nojit, hope she still believes she's lucky to land you ;) ”
It was more than 7 hours later that I got to read that e-mail, but having done so, I immediately replied asking “what sort of sick?”. I never received a reply and I didn't hear from her again. In early August 2008, shicey contacted me on behalf of Lev, asking if I had heard from xETTa. In late August, I received a message directly from Lev informing me of xETTa's death in July. She would have been 27.
Cleo, you played a significant part in our lives. It's hard to believe you're really gone. You were arrogant, annoying, to many people impossible. For those of us who started to get a bit closer to you, you became a friend. You were unique. If there is a heaven (or a #heaven ?), please do try not to get put on its autokick list.
Very useful “facts”