Chaat vendors in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat became viral meme material earlier this week. According to Harinder, the henna-maned man who has emerged as the star of the video (recorded by a bystander with an evident eye for cinematic action sequences), the brawl broke out because a rival was stealing his customers. This villain, alleged our wronged hero, had been spreading canards about him, telling people that his chaat was stale. Having endured this affront for as long as he could, Harinder swung into action — with a rod in hand and comrades by his side.
It is only fitting, perhaps, that chaat is at the centre of this Battle of Baghpat — a dish that relies on opposing, almost combative, flavours and textures of various chutneys, raw onions and tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves, deep-fried sev, puri and fritters. Who knows better than avid consumers of chaats of all variety that a good plate of golgappas and aloo chaat is certainly worth going on the offence for. Wars have been fought over less — Helen may have been the greatest beauty in the world, but then, the Achaeans and the Trojans had never seen, much less tasted, a plate of sweet-and-tangy dahi bhalla chaat.
Now, of course, the Homeric tradition finds expression in memes and the Baghpat incident has inspired more than a few. These feature everything that the true poets of the digital age, the makers of memes and remix videos, could throw in: Lightsabers, slow motion, ’70s Bollywood action music, sports commentary. While violence shouldn’t be celebrated, one can’t quite censure those who found their muse in the brawlers of Baghpat. The violent incidents one hears of from UP are usually gruesome and rooted in a grim reality. The hilarity which greeted the video of what is, after all, a minor incident, is a reminder that even in UP life has a lighter side too.