What are happily ever afters made of? Picture this: having known each other since their college days in Bombay, Karishma and Adrian Savio Fernandez got married in 2007 and moved to Dubai. Like most couples, they nurtured dreams of building a new life together in a new city. Karishma, who had already worked in the media, went on to become a well-known RJ with City 1016, while Adrian worked in the real estate. Over the course of nine-and-a-half years, the couple went on to have two children and were expecting their third in 2017.
In June of that year, however, things took a different turn. One evening, as the two were to meet for what they called a “date night”, Adrian called Karishma to inform that he hadn’t been feeling well. “I was on my way to Bur Dubai, and asked him not to step out. A little later, he called to say he was walking to a clinic nearby. I sensed it was something more serious because he wouldn’t normally do that,” recalls Karishma.
Adrian had suffered a fatal heart attack. And by the time Karishma came, paramedics were trying to revive him. “I drove in the ambulance with him to the hospital, and kept praying and praying.” That was until a doctor finally told her Adrian was gone.
Such is the promise of a lifetime of togetherness that we don’t ever imagine ourselves being partnerless. Right after Adrian’s death, Karishma was a pregnant widow tasked with navigating life as a single parent. There was a choice to be made — either to hold on to the grief that would inevitably come with such a monumental loss or find resilience to move on while keeping the memories of her late husband alive for herself and her children. This can be a particularly difficult proposition when one of the children has never seen the father. How do you construct the idea of a paternal figure then? The conversations in the household are rich in memories of Adrian. It also means no tears can be shed by Karishma when she is talking about him, because the single parent happens to be the source of strength and hope for the children. But above all, it means visiting and revisiting the idea of what Adrian was like. “My youngest son Isaiah will obviously not realise what really happened and accepts the world he is growing up in as being normal. His family is just mum, two siblings and a nanny,” says Karishma. But there are moments when Isaiah’s friends reach out to a paternal figure they call papa. “When he sees them calling their fathers ‘papa’, he also reaches out to them calling them ‘Papa’. That’s when I show him Adrian’s photograph and tell him this is your dad,” says Karishma.
Single parents often have to walk the tightrope — while you want your child to be in touch with reality, you do not want to deprive them of hope. “Initially, it really hurt me to know that I was going to have a child who’d never see his father. I still remember some people who came to meet me after Adrian’s demise kept telling me he’s returned in the form of this child. I discouraged that thought because this child has his own individuality. I know at some point he will ask me questions, I will answer those then,” she says.
On the professional front, in her day job as an RJ with City 1016, Karishma’s quirky takes on life and Bollywood are hugely popular. What a listener almost always takes back with him or her is a reassurance that things are alright. For instance, during the pandemic, she began a series called City of Hope which documented stories of everyday life that showcased generosity of spirit. “One such story revolved around a woman, who having bought a crate of mangoes from a supermarket, saw a bunch of labourers sitting outside. She asked them if they liked mangoes, to which they nodded. She went back to the supermarket and returned with a crate each for all of them,” says Karishma. When it’s not these slice-of-life stories, she draws inspiration from Bollywood. For example, Villains Waala Wednesday is a feature where she pays weekly tributes to Bollywood villains — “everyone remembers the heroes, but only a few remember the villains,” she says.
Outside the studio, however, it is the single parent that takes over. The pandemic has turned parenting into something of a challenge. For Karishma, raising three children during the WFH period was no mean feat. “It was frustrating because education had moved online and there was some bullying happening. As a working parent (I still went to the studio which was open with complete social distancing and sanitisation being taken care of), I would come home to find that there was a whole lot of schoolwork that was now expected to be done by the parent. I was not able to cope with it. In September 2020, I took my kids out of school and decided to opt for homeschooling.” The kids have now returned to a school where “children’s studies don’t become entire responsibility of the parent”.
But while the going has been anything but easy during the pandemic, Karishma’s sense of humour has kept the family together. Every now and then, one spots a skit on her social media channels that offer a peek into her daily life with three children. “When TikTok became popular, I joined it purely for fun, and found some interesting content. Usually the skits there are about everyday life and mine revolves around my children. Unexpectedly, we had fun doing this. So now our primary intention is to entertain ourselves,” she says.
Over a period of time, our relationship with grief changes. While it may or may not go away completely, our resilience makes room for hope. Through the course of our 44-minute conversation, which involves navigating difficult memories, there is also a heartfelt celebration of who Adrian was (“I still get messages from those who met him just once but liked him so much”; “He did not leave any stone unturned to make our lives as happy as possible”) and how her “default setting of being happy” has helped her and the family move on. “It is all about making sure that my children have hope. I can only offer them what I am abundant in,” says Karishma. “Which is why I have focused less on grief and more on being hopeful.” A real triumph for any single parent.