Acclaimed sound engineer turned tiger saviour Hans Dalal talks of life with cerebral palsy, a moment that changed his life, and his definition of success
“Please excuse my language,” chuckles Hans Dalal, two minutes into this interview, adding, “This is how I talk only!” In this one statement he has set the tone for both the tenor of our conversation and his attitude to life — staying true to his heart and remaining unhinged by societal conventions. And the trajectory of his life has been anything but conventional.
Dalal, born with cerebral palsy, has had his share of struggles and obstacles. But an unwavering constant in his life was his love of music. What started as a tool to help strengthen his fingers quickly became his life’s first calling. “Music became my life but I couldn’t continue to play it, as my fingers wouldn’t keep up with my mind,” says Dalal, who, instead of giving up, found a way around it — sound engineering!
After a successful decade as a sound engineer who worked with the likes of Sidd Coutto, Trilok Gurtu and Vishal-Shekhar, Dalal’s life changed in a split second: he spotted his first tiger in the jungles of Kanha in 2007. “I came back to my studio in Bombay and couldn’t concentrate on making music. All I could think of was being back in the jungle and learning how to save that beautiful creature.” And that is exactly what he did.
Today, talking to us from the home he and his wife have built in the heart of Madhya Pradesh’s tiger territory, Dalal runs Prowl, an NGO that works tirelessly to save the tigers of India. His story is one of an indomitable spirit, the power of courage, and taking life by the horns.
How do you exercise the art of mind over body?
I have certain physical limitations because of my condition, but the desire to experience makes me push past my own boundaries. I believe your mind is always stronger than your body. It’s like telling your body, “I can and I will”. Even if you don’t get to the end point, it’s better than never having tried at all.
What is your mantra for a positive and fulfilling life?
Listen to your heart; not your brain. Let your gut instincts make your decisions for you. Even if those decisions seem stupid at first, things will always work out when you follow your passion.
What’s been one of your biggest setbacks, and how did you overcome it?
I would say my most challenging experience to date was two years ago when I was trying to save a tiger that had claimed over 70 lives. After we had tracked him down with the intention of releasing him in a secluded part of the forest, he was shot dead in front me on government orders.
Watching that happen completely shattered me but there was no question of overcoming it. I simply had to get up and continue on my mission. It actually made me more committed to my cause and the desire to save these beautiful creatures.
How does India deal with people who are differently abled, and what changes are necessary in this regard?
The biggest problem in India is a complete lack of awareness about disability and how to care for the differently abled. So, before changes are made to infrastructure, people at every level, from schools to public places, need to be educated on the challenges we face that they take for granted.
Success means a lot of things to different people. What’s your definition?
Success is not just financial; it is being happy and having a sense of fulfilment in your life. It’s putting your heart and soul into something that yields that happiness. It is also realising and accepting that everyone is successful in their own way.