IT’S Been nearly a month since the death of keyboard player Karan Joseph but the reason for the apparent suicide is no clearer than it was on September 9. People around Joseph, 29, have various theories about what may have been driven him to suicide.
Joseph was staying in a 12th-floor flat in Bandra rented by Rishi Shah, CEO of Crossbones Media and founder of Rave magazine that promotes music. It was from there that he allegedly jumped to his death. Although Joseph’s friends and family have questioned the way Shah treated Joseph —allegedly forcing him to sign a contract and dissuading him from playing with other artistes — investigations initially by Bandra police and later by the crime branch have not found any evidence to connect Shah or anyone else to the possible circumstances that may have led to the suicide.
Shah has become the target of a campaign launched on social media by Joseph’s friends, who have accused him of being disrespectful of musicians and cited posts by Shah criticising various musicians. Besides the campaign, what has added fuel to various theories is reports about events before and after Joseph’s death.
A neighbour on the 11th floor of the Bandra building, Concorde Housing Society, told police that four days before the musician died, they had seen “a bald and thin guy” dangling from the ledge of the 12th-floor with a dog leash tied to the loop of his pants. When the police recorded the statements of the neighbour and the watchman, who had rushed to the flat, they concluded that Joseph had climbed the ledge after accidentally dropping three notes of Rs 2,000. “The watchman said in his statement that people in the flat had asked Joseph to come back but he insisted on collecting the notes. He then shouted ‘Victory’ after he picking up the notes,” said an officer with Bandra police.
A few days later came reports that an officer in the investigating team had said he had seen drops of blood on the ledge. Later, however, the constable made a statement that he had seen a red stain, not a bloodstain.
Joseph’s parents met Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar on September 18 with a letter, in which they expressed doubts about the series of events leading to the alleged suicide. It was after this that the commissioner transferred the case to the crime branch.
The music promoter
Police say Joseph was caught in a tussle between Shah and a group of musicians. “Shah had met Joseph at a concert in Bengaluru a month ago and asked him to sign a contract with him. Shah had advised Joseph not to play with his friends who, in his view, were mediocre artists,” said a senior IPS officer said. “Joseph’s friends felt Shah was condescending with other musicians and advised Joseph to stay away from him. Hence, when Joseph died, most of them blamed Shah.”
“While a lot of friends were making allegations against Shah in the media, they did not mention his name in statements they gave to us,” said an officer with Bandra police. “In fact, even Joseph’s mother had stayed at Shah’s home and did not say anything against him in her statement. How could we book him?”
Joseph’s family said Shah was “forcing” him to sign the contract. In a written statement released at a press conference in Bengaluru, his father Dr Thomas Joseph said, “Considering the events that have unfolded in the aftermath of Karan’s unnatural demise, we now realize that his [Shah’s] intentions were not correct. Rishi Shah promised to make Karan Joseph a brand and dissuaded Karan from playing with any other artists. Rishi Shah enticed Karan with the offer to buy him, in his words, ‘One of the World’s most expensive key boards’ —The Prophet. At a later day, Vidhi Shah, Secretary of Rishi Shah, stated that if Karan did not sign the contract he could repay the cost of the key board over a period of five years. In his interviews and statements Rishi Shah has suppressed mentioning the contract he was pushing Karan to sign, although this is the root cause of the incident.”
Shah has so far chosen not to aggressively counter the attacks on him on social media. “I’m not a social media guy, I don’t let them [allegations] affect me. A lot more important people have said a lot more vicious things about me,” Shah said during a conversation a few days after Joseph’s death.
“I haven’t listened to any of the music I recorded with Karan,” Shah said. “I have an hour of recordings but I don’t have the courage to listen to them because I’ll start crying. I feel sad that we didn’t get to record more music.”
Bandra police found that the day he died, Joseph’s friends had been telling him not to let things worry him. On September 9, Joseph, was taken to a party thrown by musician friend Rohan Mazumdar after he had messaged a friend about being “beaten”, police said. At the party, according to statements the police recorded, friends told Joseph not to be affected by their objections to Shah and to focus on his music.
What continues to intrigue police is eight phone calls that Joseph made to friends that morning, of which only two, made to foreign nationals, were answered.
Following his death, social media messages have included not only attacks on Shah but also tributes to Joseph. One post on the #justiceforkaran Facebook page, accompanied by a picture of Joseph’s keyboards, reads, “As you go about your lives, filled with bills and heartache and battles unknown, in a world where information is shoved in your face via carefully calculated algorithms, with the option to choose to or not engage made as easy as a flick of a thumb, remember that a son, a brother and a friend has passed away in rather questionable circumstances. Let not the voice of the many be silenced by the voice of the few in places of influence and power. The dead cannot speak for themselves, therefore we must lend our voice! Keep the fire lit for as long as it takes for justice to be served! Chin up! The fight is on! Like! Share! Spread the word! #justiceforkaran”
Among those criticising Shah is Mumbai-based musician Clayton Hoegermeer, who wrote on his Facebook page on September 15: “While we all may think and feel that this man is the devil incarnate, let us not give him the attention that he so desires and craves. Let us focus on our friend, and the person he was. We are all grieving in one way or another, all of us, but we are not the investigators, nor the judge and jury. Let us not feed the media with hearsay. They just want a story. But he is more than just a story. He was a friend. If you have any evidence or proof regarding the case, reach out to the respected authorities with the ability to ensure justice is served. Karan deserves this much from us. Let the truth be known. Chin up! The fight is on!”
“We do not wish to talk right now. Let the crime branch conduct its investigation,” said Daryl Andrade, Joseph’s uncle.
The watchman of the Concorde Housing Society, where Joseph died, did not allow journalists inside the building.
Joseph studied at Frank Anthony Public School in Bengaluru and later at Berklee College of Music in Boston. After returning to India, he collaborated with musicians David Binny, Amit Heri, L Subramaniam, Prasanna and Louis Banks, and Shillong-based band Soulmate. Joseph also played with Gino Banks, composer Vishal Dadlani’s band Pentagram for an episode of MTV Unplugged, and Randolph Correia, apart from performing at pubs in Mumbai and Bengaluru. Before his death, he had completed a contract with Oscar-winning music director A R Rahman. He had been based in Mumbai since 2013.