It is impossible to think of Nieni Rafi as anyone but the smiling, optimistic and free-spirited soul that she was. The person lying under the confines of a starched white sheet this morning – as lifeless and ironically liberating as death is – could not be her.
Except it was.
Nieni was one of us; she was much, much better than any one of us. A beautiful soul void of any airs and graces, Nieni was someone who wore a beaming smile with her signature, relaxed sense of style. Slouchy jeans, a comfortable tee shirt and often an oversized shawl to respect the sensibilities of the people she worked with and/or covered. Respectful, unassuming and hardworking, I can’t think of one single instance when – on the job – no matter how late the hours, how hot and uncomfortable the weather or how crowded the event, I ever remember Nieni hanging around with a scowl. She stood by her camera crew, always with that beaming smile. I cannot imagine seeing Adnan without her. She never complained, even when salaries came late or teams thinned out and work load doubled. Nieni soldiered on, at calm and persistent pace; I’m sure she fought the fight when she needed to – she was a progressive, independent working woman – but she did everything with grace and dignity.
She head GEO TV’s Entertainment desk with the perfect balance between awami and english medium reportage, if that makes any sense. It will make sense to those who knew her. I always hesitated being on camera, first conscious of the way I looked and then conscious of the fact that my Urdu didn’t sound all that great. She always had a word of encouragement ready, convincing me that there was more to me than the way I felt I looked or sounded. I believe Nieni did that for everyone. She was that one friend you’d call when you needed to vent because she brought with her an unreal sense of calm.
I remember speaking to Nieni a couple of months ago. She had been ill for quite some time and was fighting the dreaded battle with cancer but there was zero exhaustion, weariness or self-pity in her voice. I could feel her smiling through our conversation. She promised to meet up soon, though we never could, and then I heard she was getting better. She wasn’t, except that was the way she wanted to be remembered. I hope we can honour her memory and learn from the way she lived.
Goodbye dear friend, you will always be missed.