The first time Hans Dalal saw a tiger in the wild was at Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park in 2007. He was captivated.
“After I returned to Mumbai, I could not sleep,” says
Dalal, a sound engineer who has worked with the likes of
Bollywood composer duo Vishal-Shekhar and jazz percussion virtuoso Trilok Gurtu.
Dalal was born with cerebral palsy. He could not walk
on his own till he was 6, and underwent years of
painstaking therapies. He scraped through school,
because his debilitating condition ensured his attention
He beat all the hurdles his condition posed, and built a
successful career. But he says that Kanha encounter in
2006 changed his life: “All day, I would sit by the comput-
er learning more about tigers and their way of life.”
He got himself two certificates in wildlife conservation,
and started a pro-conservation non-governmental organi-
zation called Prowl.
Dalal, 34, organizes
and camps, is a Right to
Information activist for
tiger causes, and has
worked in about 20 of
India’s protected forests
And in an effort to
wean them off poaching
tigers, he has made a
heart-warming documentary film and lovely
music featuring women
and children of the
Moghiya tribe of
Despite his cerebral
palsy, Hans Dalal’s parents enrolled him at a
regular school (Activity
High School, Mumbai).
Weekends were for a
school or clinic for the
differently abled — a
phrase that he seems to
“I was never interested in academics, I somehow man-
aged to complete class (grade) 12,” he says. “The principal
and teachers were very kind. They’d punish me for my
pranks, but they’d also take good care of me.”
At age 8, Dalal, who needed years of therapy to even walk
on his own, climbed an artificial rock climbing wall, billed
as the first of its kind in India then.
As he grew older, he developed music as another passion,
but his condition proved to be a hurdle again.
“I understand music and can technically play the guitar,
but I cannot control the movement of my fingers,” he
So he became a sound sculptor. He earned himself two
diplomas in audio engineering from Mumbai University,
and another one from RMIT University in Melbourne,
His first job was at Dev Anand’s recording studio in
Mumbai, which he says he quit after the Bollywood legend
refused to compensate him for his work.
Dalal’s first experiences as a tiger activist were traumatic
too, and not because of the beasts.
After about a year of research on tigers, in 2009, Dalal
enrolled for a course in conservation leadership with Tiger
Watch — an organization he credits for helping change his
In the first week he was among a group of people —
including forest officials and a Tiger Watch senior — to raid
the house of a Moghiya tribal poacher.
“We were travelling in a jeep and riding uphill,” Dalal
remembers. “Suddenly, I could hear gunshots and the next
thing I know is I’m hiding in the space between the
driver’s seat and another policeman. The firing continued
from both sides and went on for some time. We got off the
jeep and entered the house we found several gunny bags.
We opened it and found seven illegal guns inside. There
were also some iron boxes, more like suitcases with hard
locks. We broke them open and found raw deer and bull
meat. For me, it was too much of a learning experience in a
Helping tigers through music
Dalal has organized workshops and activities to help
Moghiyas find alternate means of living, but he admits it
continues to be a challenge.
“Even before the time the Mughals ruled India, Moghiyas
were royal hunters and gatherers who worked with kings,”
he explains. “They’ve spent their entire life hunting in the
wild. When the Mughals came, they were driven away and
they lost their jobs and livelihood. Since they did not know
anything beyond hunting, they took refuge in the jungle
and became an aggressive, rebellious tribe. They indulged
in poaching, and made small profits to sustain themselves.”
The Moghiyas are a diminishing tribe with roughly 300-
400 families, most of who live in jungles. Most have never
been to school and can barely read or write. Many have
criminal cases against them.
Dalal saw ability in them.
“During the time I spent with them, I realized that they
could sing. The women were good at handicrafts. I saw
tremendous potential in them,” he says.
With his musician friend Sidd Coutto — who has played
in Mumbai rock bands like Zero and Tough on Tobacco —
Dalal recorded an album with Moghiya tribals.
He also made a 24-minute documentary, With A Little
Help, that features the making of the album.
Dalal credits Tiger Watch for having transformed his
understanding of the tiger and the issues surrounding protection of the magnificent beast, but he says some of the
other NGOs he worked with as a volunteer for free were not
“Some of these NGOs get a lot of private funding, which
they put to their own use,” he says. “At one of the NGOs I
worked for, the head invested public-funded money to buy
a luxury jeep. I fail to understand why an NGO needs to
spend money on a luxury jeep when it can use that money
for other useful purposes.”
So in February, Dalal started Prowl. One of its first activi-
ties was a photography workshop in Spiti, Himachal
Pradesh — famous for, among other things, being one of
the country’s prime snow leopard habitats.
“The aim of Prowl,” he explains, “is to identify people who
are working towards the cause of wildlife conservation and
help them in their quest. In the first phase, we plan to reach
out to the forest guards.”
The humble forest guard, Dalal says, is the most under
threat in the war for protecting India’s 1,400-odd tigers left
in the wild.
“They go out in the wild and risk their lives, but most of
them are using outdated equipment and first-aid kits,” he
says. “With the profits from Prowl’s workshops and activi-
ties, we aim to share first aid kits with the forest guards.”
Each kit costs Rs 600 ($10), and people who want to con-
tribute can drop an e-mail to email@example.com.
He beat cerebral palsy to
help tigers with music
Hans Dalal overcame the limitations his condition posed to
become a successful sound engineer. Then he fell in love with
tigers, and decided to merge his passions. Divya Nair digs deeper.
Hans Dalal, inset, credits Tiger
Watch for having transformed his
understanding of the tiger. He is
an avid photographer of the
PHOTOGRAPHS COUR TES Y: HANS DALAL
AGAINST ALL ODDS
India Abroad November 29, 2013
THE MAGAZINE M11