My First House - Devi’s sanctuary, Devi Sankaree Govender

Devi Sankaree Govender remembers the precise moment she and husband Perumal Moodley knew a move was imperative. ‘We were just coping in my tiny one-bedroom flat in Morningside,’ says Devi. ‘I was juggling the roles of features editor of the Sunday Times, a daily talk show on Lotus FM, presenting Eastern Mosaic and, yes, my pregnancy as well, when there was a knock at the door. The textbooks for our MBAs had arrived. Two heaps of them. Our little fold-up dining-room table couldn’t cope. It was time.’

Not so simple. Devi’s fantasy of a freestanding house with a garden big enough for a swing and sandpit just wouldn’t materialise. Well, in their price bracket anyway. ‘We looked for about five months, mainly in Glenwood because we’d both studied at the university (and still were!), and felt an affinity to the area.’ Devi recalls the summer of 2000 as she and her vast tummy did the showhouse rounds. She laughs: ‘Everybody said we’d know when it was the right house. None of them was that. We’d seen over 30…’

And then came the 84-year-old house on Nicholson Road. ‘It was pouring with rain, but the moment I walked into the entrance hall, I knew. Perumal said Too Expensive, We Can’t Afford It… and anyway, I hadn’t seen beyond the entrance.’ Devi recalls dreamily: ‘Gleaming wooden floors, high ceilings, stained glass, a chandelier in the entrance, nice-sized grounds with huge trees, a fabulous bar entertainment area, three bedrooms, a pool… and in great condition. I was completely sold on the house, the wide road, the position.’

They did the maths, wrote down pros and cons, and – hearts in mouths – put in an offer. Rejected. Another offer. Rejected. Another – on Christmas Eve – and it was theirs. For R400 000, they had their first house. Euphoria, swiftly followed by terror. In the true style of ‘be careful what you wish for,’ Devi recalls: ‘We were panic-stricken; sleepless nights as to how we could afford it. It frightened the living daylights out of us. I was the one who’d pushed for the sale and now, with a baby on the way, the prospect of six months off work, very little furniture – a bed, a lounge suite, a fold-up table and a television – and a husband who truly believed we’d bought a dud, we were on the hook.’

Devi and Perumal moved in in March, in good time for the birth of their daughter, Kaiyuree, six weeks later. They adored the house, particularly Devi, who was on leave for the first time in her working life and could enjoy the time with her baby. ‘The home was so special. One of those that folds its arms around you the minute you walk into it.’
Devi considers herself a real homemaker. ‘I love creating a home my family will always remember – and return to – as a warm and safe place. A comfortable, homely environment, not a museum piece. But,’ she adds very quickly, ‘being a Virgo, nothing was ever out of place. Untidiness rocks my world really badly!’

Four years later, after the birth of their son, Sayuran, Perumal was offered a post in Joburg, and the family had to move. ‘When the estate agent said they’d market the house for R1.3-million, I thought they were completely insane. The show day arrived, and I headed out to Umhlanga with the children. I’d hardly hit the freeway, when the agent called to ask me to return. He had an offer. I spun round, returned home, and signed on the dotted line: R1.25-million! I felt like I’d won the Lotto.’
Devi’s says her first home taught her how to be clever with her money. ‘That property taught me how hard your money can work for you. We stretched ourselves to buy the house, then paid as much off the bond as fast as we could. I’d recommend anybody to do the same – don’t buy a one-bed, buy a two… and save your money by paying it off fast!’ She laughs: ‘I love an access bond!’

Devi and Perumal are now bedded down in Joburg, ‘in a much bigger, far more modern house,’ says Devi, slightly wistfully.
But her life is a good one, and she shouts: ‘I love it, love it, love it!’ And work? She scoffs: ‘It’s not work, it’s pleasure. I work very long hours, but I don’t work every day… so I can still be a mother and do the mommy things.’ She describes a normal working day: ‘Leave home at 6am if the shoot’s local, or 4 if it’s to catch a flight. We normally shoot until 7 or 8 at night. Then, there’s a couple of media training days a week’ – Devi runs one-day courses for senior executives on how to handle the media (who better qualified?) – and, every Sunday afternoon, she anchors Carte Blanche Africa. ‘There’s often a voice-over to do at some stage over the weekend, and plenty of MC work.’ But weekends are largely family and friends… and, she sighs, ‘kids’ birthday parties!’

The fearless Devi we see on television, challenging all and sundry on a Sunday night, is, ultimately, a home-bird. ‘I’m not into cars, fancy clothes or matching lipstick. The home I create is one where everybody can kick off their shoes, put their legs up on the sofa and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s my sanctuary. That’s where I like to be.’

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Words: Anne Schauffer Photography: Andrew Bannister