A continuum of tradition and culture going back centuries, the long, leisurely discussions over hookah or maybe a cup of tea mirrored the political preoccupations of the times, the concerns of the day and sometimes even served as a forum to sort out disputes.
They are still the nerve centre of discussion and discourse and Arshad Rafique, a retired employee of the electricity department, heads to a 'baithak' (meeting) after dinner around 9 pm where people from his 'mohalla' Qazi Sarai congregate every night.
Over the years, Rafique said, the baithaks' have been symbols of secularism and brotherhood.
But some cracks between different communities and castes are visible of late and sharp arguments are not uncommon now, said the 70-year-old.
'Baithaks' in towns and villages such as Nagina, Seohara, Bijnor and Amroha have been a constant for hundreds of years, said Rafique, who has been part of one baithak' or the other since the age of 10.
While chai pe charcha' (conversation over tea) was a completely political idea that gave a fillip to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 2014 campaign, baithaks' in this region are more about tradition and culture, and the topics discussed can be as varied as the day itself, said old-timers.
It is held in several mohallas' and people congregate in the house of the person whose family has commanded respect for generations.
Though the tradition is on the wane with Gen Next making a move towards big cities, baithaks' are active in many places albeit with dwindling numbers.
Qazi Arshad Masood hosts a baithak' at his home everyday to discuss ideas and thoughts, continuing an evening ritual that started with his grandfather. He acknowledged the changing nature of discussions over the years.
Earlier, civil disputes and quarrels were also sorted at the baithak' apart from discussions on raging political issues, but that feature is now missing. It is mostly politics. In election season, who is voting for whom dominates the discourse, Masood told PTI.
Another key feature that is missing now from these baithaks' is the hookah. Now the discussions are just over a cup of tea, said Masood, who is also head of the Sugarcane Development Cooperative Society of Nagina.
It is not just about sharing political and social ideas. Children also learn etiquette and the manner in how to conduct discussion and debate.
A 'baithak' at my place was more about problem solving and the resolution of conflicts, while the 'baithak' at former Union minister Hafiz Mohammad Ibrahim (also in Nagina) was about political issues and public works to be undertaken, Masood said, lamenting that the tradition might be on its last legs with the youth moving to bigger cities.
According to Prashant Goel, a lawyer from Bijnor, those attending a particular baithak' become like family over the years. If one person is unwell and does not turn up for a couple of days, all regulars land up at his home to check on him.
Rakesh Mishra, also a lawyer, echoed similar views.
Though baithaks' are mostly attended by only men, it creates a bond among their families and they are there by each other's side through life's ups and downs, he said.
The baithaks' typically lasted for less than an hour with everybody sharing their ideas, but these days extend to two hours or more with elections making for an interesting conversation.
The major topic dominating the discussion these days at these meetings in western UP is whether Muslims will go with the SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan' or the Congress or there will be a split in votes, benefitting the BJP.
Interestingly, everyone at these meetings seems to consider himself a psephologist, a political expert, and predictions keep flowing.
Though most predictions and opinions offered may be exaggerated and off the mark, the friendly banter seems more meaningful than the hollow TV debates and the politically-motivated 'chai pe charcha', said Tanvir Pervez, whose house in Nagina hosted such a baithak' before he moved to Ghaziabad.
The "chai pe charcha" was a concept started by the BJP as a campaign tool in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
Elections in Uttar Pradesh are being held over seven phases. While eight constituencies in Western Uttar Pradesh voted in the first phase, eight more will go to the polls in the second phase on April 18.
The votes for the Lok Sabha election will be counted on May 23.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)