Ever wondered how it would be if everyone thought you were different? If you weren’t able to cope up with other kids in school? If you weren’t allowed to have equal opportunities as others? It takes something extraordinary to fight back and still have the passion to keep going. The story of our speaker Hans Dalal is one such inspiring tale.
Society finds it difficult to accept anyone who deviates even slightly from what is perceived to be the ‘accepted normal'. Hans Dalal developed cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder caused due to brain malformation in the early stages of birth. The disorder affected his movement; he only learned to walk at the age of six and even then, found it difficult to maintain his balance and move freely. He also developed severe speech impairment.
Cerebral palsy – and the social stigma surrounding it – made even the most mundane things challenging. He has been offered a wheelchair at airports several times, despite never having asked for it. His lack of balance while walking often leads people to think of him as a disorderly drunk. A mother once even pulled her daughter closer to herself and away from Hans as he walked by. As a child, he wasn’t allowed on school trips because his teachers were worried about him losing his balance and hurting himself. His uncle, however, came to his rescue. He would set off with Hans to the hills, trekking and helping him get in touch with nature. Hans believes that his numerous treks to the Himalayas as a growing boy helped him develop the love for nature, one that went on to define his life in his later years. However, Hans never let such instances deter his optimism.
A love for music saw him learning to play the keyboards. He soon realized that he would only be able to achieve his true potential by pursuing a career in sound engineering. He studied sound engineering in Australia and, after working with a couple of studios, even set up his own studio in Mumbai. Having worked with the likes of musician Ankur Tiwari and music directors Vishal and Shekhar, Hans was a well-established sound engineer. But, destiny had some "wild" plans for him!
In 2007, Hans’ life changed forever. He was in the Kanha National Park when he saw a tiger. Instantly, he fell in love: “It moved me to my core,” he said. He went back to his studio but found himself constantly thinking of the jungle. Finally, he decided to quit his well-established career and shut down his studio. Hans began to spend an increasing amount of time researching and understanding the reasons behind the declining numbers of tigers in the country. He was driven by a strong desire to address this alarming problem.
During this period, Hans attended a Tiger Watch workshop in Ranthambore, once the hunting ground of the Maharaja of Jaipur. With the government enforced ban on poaching in the 1970s, communities living in wildlife reserves and forests were left in the lurch. The aim of the workshop was to provide vocational training to these communities and help them find alternative employment opportunities.
It was there that Hans met poachers from the Moghiya tribe and discovered that many of them were extremely talented musicians. Hans roped in some photographers and put to use his experience as a sound engineer to create a 30-minute documentary about the lives of these poachers.
As musically talented as Hans is, he’s also an enthusiastic wildlife photographer. Ask him if he has a particular style and he laughs. “Over processing images. No, but really, I just click. I am a self-taught photographer. YouTube has all the tricks you need to know". His hands tremble a little while clicking pictures but that doesn't give away while seeing the scenic pictures that he clicks. From being chased by tigers while on foot patrol to climbing trees to escaping from predators, Hans has come a long way. He now runs a non-profit organization, PROWL, which stands for Preservation of Wild Landscapes, with his wife Avantika Chandar.
Through this organisation, projects like a first aid training for forest guards in the Sundarbans, camera trapping in Umred along with Sanctuary Asia, self-purification water bottles distribution in Ranthambore have been executed. PROWL is also involved in monitoring the movement of tigers with the help of camera traps between Maharashtra and Telangana and tracks conflict tigers for the Maharashtra forest department. They also extend their support to the forest department by conducting workshops for forest guards in camera trapping and monitoring. 230 forest guards in Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve, have also been provided with self-purification water bottles to facilitate their work while patrolling the jungles.
He has also spoken at TEDx gateway, Nature in Focus and Josh Talks as well as talks at other different seminars on wildlife conservation and importance of protecting our ecosystem. With his unconventional life choices, Hans Dalal seems to have reached an understanding beyond the general realm. He continues to motivate and encourage thousands to fight back with his undying spirit. Maybe, he knows something we have overlooked, or maybe he just took Einstein’s words to heart — “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.