I am still in shock over the news of Mr. Gana's passing on Thursday, February 27, at 8pm Malaysian time. In fact, his death is something that never crossed my mind for one bit. It just sounded impossible given how long he has been in St. John's and the things he had gone through over the years. Whenever I wanted to hear updates about the school from halfway across the globe, Mr. Gana is one of those people in my call list, and we would spend almost to an hour talking about St. John's in every session.
Please allow me to share the memories I have with him over the past decade I got to know him.
Mr. K. Kanapathy, whom we all know as Mr. Gana, began his service with St. John's sometime in 1967, when the Main Block was pure white, Dewan Tun Dr. Ismail just officiated, the Arts Block (now Form Five Block) in its second year and Bro. Joseph McNally the Director. At that time, he saw St. John's just as another place to work, nothing more. Who would have thought he would eventually become one of the most attached man to this beloved institution.
Over the years, he worked in various departments in the school. While we all know him as the great handyman who knows every electrical and water supply and outlet in the school, Mr. Gana used to be a watchman as well as an office assistant. I remember him telling the story of Bro. Joseph Yeoh paying him overtime during examination season to make copies of examination papers (Please bear in mind that this was 40 years ago, and I don't think photocopiers are as simple as they are in today's world).
During the Brothers' administration, he was also entrusted to manage the bookings of the badminton hall after school hours. The income from the badminton hall rentals was what St. John's used to fund any maintenance works needed in the school premises, and the fact that the Brothers leave the management of the badminton hall and the rental collections to Mr. Gana shows how reliable and trustworthy he has been over the years he has been in St. John's.
As a believer in preserving sentimental values, Mr. Gana was an active advocate against any attempts to remove working antique equipment or furniture from the school premises. He once expressed disappointment over the unnecessary removal of a number of light fixtures from the Form Five Block and Lower Lecture Theatre. At first I did not see it as too much a deal, but when I managed to catch hold of the same light fixture, I saw his point of frustration and agreed that it was a bad decision.
I also remember another incident where Mr. Gana called me at 11pm one night to report the disappearance of the school hall's old metal chairs. I was aghast as these was furniture from the 1950's, which existed way before he even came to St. John's. I had a search party look high and low for those chairs, only to learn that the chairs were relocated to avoid contact with the weather and are still in the school grounds. This shows you how concerned is he for the school despite no longer officially in service with St. John's.
His concern for the school is such that most of the time he takes no remuneration for the things he did. If you walk past the portico, take some time to observe the wooden boards hanging in the hallway. Notice that the School Rally board looks rather new, with fresh varnish and polished white letters. We have no one but Mr. Gana to thank for it. Over one of the school holidays, the board broke away from its mountings and came crashing down. It was Mr. Gana who took it to his workshop at the basement and had it fixed, all without asking for a single cent from the school.
Unfortunately, all this is now a thing in the past. We will no longer see Mr. Gana making his rounds in the school premises after hours to report possible electricity wastages, water leaks, or unauthorized personnel. We will no longer have someone skilled in carpentry and iron works conveniently close to the school. We will no longer have someone experienced enough to offer advice on how to go about restoration projects in the future.
As for me, I will no longer receive detailed reports about problems with the tower clock. I will also no longer be able to ask for spare parts for antique things I fix in the school. I will also not be able to learn more things about St. John's past from the perspective of a man who spent a chunk of his life in our beloved school. Most importantly, I have lost a dear friend whom I can express my ideas and concern about St. John's and shares the same undying passion for it.
So long, Mr. Gana. Thank you for your dedicated service to the Brothers and St. John's all these years. You certainly are irreplaceable, and will be missed by us here in St. John's. May God grant you eternal rest.