Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar of the Indian Air Force has participated in the Republic Day parade every year for 26 years.
"My dream was to join the defence forces. I had a background in music and was selected as a musician in the Indian Air Force. Two of my younger brothers followed me as musicians -- one in the IAF and the other in the Indian Army.
"We are very proud that three of us brothers serve in the armed forces," says Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar who has participated in the Republic Day parade every year for 26 years as a member of the IAF's marching band.
For 16 of those 26 years, he has led the IAF's band contingent in the parade.
"I have good memories of every parade. Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja, Saare Jahan Se Accha, Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon are some of my favourite tunes," he says in a conversation over the phone from New Delhi.
To make it to the band, musicians have to be mentally and physically fit. The body posture and playing capacity also needs to meet the criterion.
"It is a tough selection," says Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar, a native of Karnal, Haryana. Members of the 72-member band were selected from various IAF bands across the country.
The music for the band is written by qualified IAF personnel. This year's martial tune played while marching past the saluting dais was written by Master Warrant Officer J A George, VSM, and Flight Lieutenant L S Rupachandra.
Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar plays the trumpet, bugle, side drum and bass drum. He has done a drum major course.
"Earlier we used to also march to Western music which has now been replaced by Indian marching tunes."
The IAF's band has also performed abroad with the International Military Tattoo which is a performance of music by bands of the armed forces of different countries.
The band has performed in Finland, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar also led the IAF band in the Beating Retreat ceremony at Vijay Chowk on January 29 to mark the end of the four-day-long Republic Day celebrations.
It is a national event when the colours and standards of the armed forces are paraded.
According to the Press Information Bureau the ceremony traces its origins to the early 1950s when Major Roberts of the Indian Army developed the unique ceremony of display by the massed bands.
It marks a centuries-old military tradition, when the troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms and withdrew from the battlefield and returned to the camps at sunset at the sounding of the Retreat. Colours and Standards are cased and flags lowered.
After leading the band in the Republic Day celebrations, Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar and the contingent would have returned to their respective air force stations in different parts of the country.
Meanwhile, his family in Bengaluru watched him on Republic Day on their television set.
"We see him with the same enthusiasm like we have done in each Republic Day over the past 26 years. We keep a phone in hand to take pictures or record a video as he goes past the saluting dais," says daughter Rakhi Nagar, a process trainer in Bengaluru.
The family enjoys listening to him play the trumpet when he is home.
"The favourite tune at home is Mere Sapno Ki Rani. It is our mother's choice," says Rakhi with a laugh.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com