Gifted co-authored by Sudha Menon and V.R. Ferose is a celebration of the lives of people with disability. The book has been translated into several Indian languages. Recently, the Kannada translation by R. Manikant and Natesh Babu won an award from the Karnataka Sahitya Academy. An Extract from the book:

So often, I’ve woken up, called a friend, and we have taken a car and gone on a road trip, deciding where to go as we drive along. We drive and camp where we please and the freedom that it gives is so good even though it sometimes gets us into a spot with wild animals.

Luckily I was behind a rock, so he couldn’t see me and did not sniff out my presence. I sat there praying for ten minutes flat after that incident!

At a camp near Solang in the Himalayas, I went out one day to relieve myself and I suddenly heard the rustling of leaves from somewhere above me. I peeped from behind the rock I was sitting near and was frightened out of my skin when I saw a huge Himalayan black bear coming down the mountain. Luckily I was behind a rock, so he couldn’t see me and did not sniff out my presence. I sat there praying for ten minutes flat after that incident!

There have been other interesting encounters of the wild kind and each time I have learnt something from it. Like the time I along with a couple of wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists and got stalked by three tigers at the Corbett National Park in December 2010.

When the then Deputy Field Officer of the park heard that we were there, he asked to meet us. He was, at that time, seeking various ways to reduce the pressure of tourists in the main Corbett area and wanted us to go there and tell him what animals and birds were to be found at the Sitabani forest area, which was not open to tourists. Our jaws fell at this unexpected opportunity and before he could change his mind, we had said yes to the proposition. There are no roads in Sitabani and we would have to walk all the way there, but to get to walk officially in a tiger reserve was like a dream come true for us.

There are no roads in Sitabani and we would have to walk all the way there, but to get to walk officially in a tiger reserve was like a dream come true for us.

We stayed that night in the government guest house and were off like heroes early in the morning. There is a temple in the forest that is dedicated to Sita. Legend goes that she lived there after Ram abandoned her after her abduction by Ravan and her return from Lanka. We explored that for a bit and set out, walking along a mountain stream to get on our task. Since it was unknown territory, we felt safe following the stream. There was a bank of sand followed by a short curtain of grass, and then the stream. This gave us a feeling of security because if there was any danger or wild animal approaching, we’d be able to see it from far. After walking for 45 minutes to an hour, we noticed our first pug mark on the river bed. We knew immediately that it was a big female tiger. And since the entire sand on the bank except the pug mark was dry, we knew she had crossed over from the other side of the river a few minutes ago. We presumed she had gone into the jungle but five minutes later, we saw a second pugmark, this time heading in the opposite direction. Dealing with two tigers is a scary proposition and suddenly, we felt very, very worried. Just as we were getting over that shock, we heard a low growling from the bushes and knew that a big cat was watching us from behind the bank of bushes. We froze for a moment but decided to proceed, with three of us looking in either direction so that we would not be ambushed by one of the tigers. I am sure you have heard the phrase ‘When it rains, it pours’. We had only proceeded a few metres ahead when one of the team members stopped dead in his tracks, pointing towards the hill and there he was, a magnificent big cat, walking up the hill. That would have been okay, but suddenly the cat stopped and turned to directly look at us, emitting a menacing snarl. We ignored that, too, and started walking ahead, our hearts in our mouth but there, in front of us, was another tiger, walking directly towards us! He was still a distance away and we ran that day like never before to save our lives. Tigers can’t climb trees because they’re too heavy. I don’t know how I climbed that tree, but for the next three months, muscles I didn’t know existed hurt. For the next three hours we sat on the tree waiting for the tigers to leave. Thankfully, they went off without any fuss.

So if you’re ever walking and see a tiger in front of you, no matter how big the tiger is, the best thing to do is to continue walking in his direction and 99 percent of the time, he’ll go into the bush and walk around you, in order to avoid you.

Even after that incident, I continued to go on walks with forest guards in Ranthambore and the thing I have learnt is that a tiger will never attack you face front. He will only attack from the side or back. So if you’re ever walking and see a tiger in front of you, no matter how big the tiger is, the best thing to do is to continue walking in his direction and 99 percent of the time, he’ll go into the bush and walk around you, in order to avoid you. They don’t want to have a face to face confrontation with humans. You just keep alert and continue walking.

From being a boy who could hardly walk without balance because of cerebral palsy to being a tiger monitoring expert, a naturalist, and a lecturer on wildlife all over the country, my life has been an adventure through and through. Most young people—including me at some point in my earlier life—worry about earning a decent livelihood and getting all the trappings of an urban life. But living in the jungles and waking up to the call of a tiger, a deer, or the sound of peacocks is altogether different. My dream now, is to be able to live in a jungle. I’ve learnt that if you follow your heart, things work out in the end. Following a tiger’s trail is my calling…

Hans Dalal, was born with cerebral palsy but went on to become a sound engineer in Australia and gave that up to work as a tiger conservator, tiger tracker, wild life photographer and even a safari guide. Married to a fellow tiger lover, the two live in a house outside the Tadoba National Park.

Excerpts from Gifted: Inspiring Stories of People with Disabilities, copyrights 2014 (c) Sudha Menon and V.R.Ferose, published by Random House India. MRP: Rs. 299, No. of Pages: 260

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