David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Greatest NZ Stories: Life rebuilt after father's murder but pain lingers

As part of the Herald's 150th birthday commemorations, reporter David Fisher and photographer Mark Mitchell travelled the country looking for the greatest Kiwi yarns. Follow their journey in this series.

A portrait taken at her wedding to Sam Farquharson.
A portrait taken at her wedding to Sam Farquharson.

Ceilla Govind was 18 when her father was beaten to death by three teenagers, leaving her to pick up the pieces. Since then she has graduated and found happiness, but the loss still hangs over her.

Day 8: Kelston, Auckland

Ceilla Govind's father was killed by three teenagers who beat him unconscious with softball bats.

Twenty years later, she has just sold the family home in Kelston, Auckland, where she spent much of her life.

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The tree in the front yard towers above her. "I remember Dad planting it. The tree was shorter than me." Now, 38, the house is sold. She hopes, as she leaves, that the new owners will not cut the tree down.

"I wish I could have talked to him on adult terms," she says. "That he could see me as an adult."

Stories are usually created when life shines a light on an event. Sometimes, though, events create shadows. There is much of what followed for Ceilla that was shrouded in darkness.

Ceilla was 18 when the October 1993 murder broke everything in her life in a way that would never be properly fixed.

Navin Govind was at work in the Four Square superette about 10 minutes' walk away from the family home the night three teenagers turned up and killed him. There were no threats first - they just went straight to violence, beating 11-year-old Sanjay Govind while killing his father.

Ceilla remembers clearly the speed with which it unfolded. "I had an argument with my dad the night before. The next minute, he's in a coma in hospital. Everything I thought was going to be there was pulled out from underneath me."

She had arrived home from the University of Auckland at about 10pm. There was no one home.

She rang an uncle who told her the shop had been robbed and that her father and brother, Sanjay, were in hospital.

"We were told Dad was in a coma and his body had been starved of oxygen."

There was no recovery. Her father died and 1000 people came to the funeral service at the Waikumete Cemetery. People came to the house and service to pay their respects, the media among them.

"Sometimes it felt like it was unreal, like it wasn't happening to us, that it wasn't us that was in the newspaper or on the news."

At the time, the gangster-style storming of the dairy and the brutality involved was truly shocking. Ceilla says attacks of the sort on dairies have become more commonplace.

There were no victim impact statements at the time. It would have been a chance, she says, to have told the teens "one stupid decision they made has resulted in this entire family being annihilated".

Navin Govind was born in India, in Surat of the wider Gujarat state. He married Joshna in 1974 in a traditionally arranged marriage. The couple began their married life in New Zealand and Ceilla was born the next year.

He had trained as a fitter and turner, but wanted his own business.

"The main reason they bought the business was so they could be their own boss; so they didn't have to be told what to do by a white fellah."

The family bought a takeaway in Pt Chevalier - "we had fish and chips every day" - before buying the superette in Kelston. "At that stage in the 1980s, there weren't that many Indian immigrants. We were the only Indians in Kelston, pretty much."

The point to it, like for many parents, was the children. Ceilla had just started at university, working towards her Bachelor of Science.

"That was their aim - to get me to university. That's what they wanted for me and that's what I wanted too."

Their ideas might have been more around accountancy, law or medicine. Ceilla wanted to be a planner. "But what does a planner do?" she remembers her parents asking.

She never got to show her father.

"I was a bit of a daddy's girl," she recalls. "I was at that point where I was trying to become more independent and do my own thing ... just being a student and having freedom.

"Dad, in one way, knew I was growing up. He was trying to protect me as well."

So, there was friction and one night an argument and the next night he was never coming back.

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Ceilla stayed. She was the eldest child in the family, so felt it was on her to be strong. The shop needed to be managed after the murder so it was in a state to be sold. "Dad used to do all these things - he used to make all these decisions." She stepped in while keeping on with study at university. The shop sold in February - not for as much as it was worth. "There weren't many people who wanted to buy a shop where someone had been killed."

When university started again in March, Ceilla returned.

"I couldn't stop everything in my life. That would have given the whole episode too much power."

But it did have power - immense power and an ability to shake the foundations of their new life. "If Mum came home later than she said she'd be home, I'd be panicking."

She moved out for a while, then back again as her mother battled ill health. Joshna Govind died aged 50. Then, after everything, Ceilla bought out her brother's share in the house and stayed in Kelston.

She has angry times and times of tears. The times when she says "It's not fair", she calls childish. "It's not fair and people know that." There are "what if" times, and the times she wants to believe in reincarnation, "or to believe their souls are still around".

"I have to do it for myself, and live life for myself, not hope whatever I do is going to meet their expectations at some point."

She has a career, working in consents at Auckland Council. She married and - having bought the family home - has her own home. "I'd like to think my parents would be proud of me and what I've achieved."

She used to dream of her father. She would dream he hadn't been killed but was living another life, with another family. "It screws with your mind sometimes." It is expected, she says, that parents will be there to watch their children grow through life's milestones. There is an expectation they will be there when you're married - in Ceilla's case, it was a photograph of the couple looking on as she wed Sam Farquharson in her mother's wedding sari.

The Kelston house where she has spent most of her life.Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Kelston house where she has spent most of her life.Photo / Mark Mitchell

They never became grandparents, they never retired. Navin Govind would be 60 this year and would have been able to have someone run the shop. "They deserved to have their retirement. That was taken away from them as well.

"You have a lot of people who say you should be over it by now. But things like that ... it's not something you get over. It's not something you can try on for size and decide you don't like it. There are days where you just want to curl up in the fetal position and stay in bed all day. You put it to one side because you have to live and function."

Ceilla has slept in every bedroom in the house. She nursed her mother in her parents' bedroom and eventually moved in there with Mr Farquharson after they married.

This is my mother's kitchen, she says. It was built to her mother's specifications. "When I cook, I feel really close to Mum." In the pantry, there are still jars of ingredients her mother would use. "When I move, I guess I'm going to have to throw it out."

That date draws near. They're off to Rotorua, wanting to be mortgage-free with animals. The house in Kelston "needs to have a family in here", she says. It not on her horizon, but perhaps whoever moves in will bring children back into the home.

"I just hope they don't chop the tree down. But why would they?"

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