An iteration of two simple syllables: ‘Baba’. The familiar word has layers of meaning braided in our minds. It ranges from the image of a Sufi mystic like Baba Bulleh Shah preaching love and brotherhood, to the thought of a revered father addressed affectionately, the image of a lean mendicant Sadhu, or just the sound of a child’s prattle spouting the word with joy.

And suddenly looms on the scene the much-in-the-news Yoga Guru turned business magnate Baba Ramdev! And the word Baba acquires fifty shades of grey.

Lovers of Asterix comics will see a similarity in this dhoti-clad Baba with the famous Druid, Getafix of Gaul, with flying cape and hair, and his secret magic potion that gave the Gaulish warriors superhuman strength to beat back the Romans. Our very own Baba with his flying hair and dhoti has a magic potion too, Coronil, to battle the coronavirus. And just as the magic potion’s secret ingredients were known only to Getafix, Baba R too is the only one privy to the making of the Ayurvedic Coronil kit.

So far so good, till he excoriated the medical fraternity by rubbishing allopathy as a ‘tamasha’ or sideshow, and calling the vaccine ineffective. This got the Good Doctors in a temper against these remarks which reveal his unscientific temper. The powers that be had to rap the gadfly Baba on the knuckles to make him eat his words. The frontline warriors, showered with petals for their dedication after the first lockdown, now pelted with insults? Here Baba Ramdev got his knickers in a knot.

He was forced into tendering an apology and recanting the claim of Coronil being an antidote to Covid. Ironically enough the honourable Judges from the Delhi High Court chastised the medical fraternity for paying attention to these remarks instead of finding a cure for Covid, and stoutly defended Baba Ramdev’s right to free speech. He smartly repurposed the kit as an immunity booster and got away with his tongue-lashing of our good Docs.

The Yoga Guru has a record of being in sticky situations. In 2012 he got on the Anna Hazare bandwagon by joining the protests against corruption at the Ramlila Ground and to strengthen the Lokpal Bill. He did a Houdini act of evading the cops by wearing drag. But to his great discomfiture the Delhi Police were able to drag him out of a cluster of salwar-kameez clad women and lodge him in the clink. And all this on camera.

Unfazed, he carries on as a self-anointed globetrotting Yoga Guru, with a massive Patanjali empire of consumer goods co-founded with Acharya Balkrishna. The media savvy Baba Ramdev uses social media to the hilt. A Grandmaster in brand building he has his own TV channels to spread the word.

Lest you thought him a mere Nukkad (streetside) Baba, Patanjali even has an ashram on a donated island in Scotland. Curiously enough he is eager to have his Patanjali products branded scientific, while heaping abuse on the practitioners and products of evidence-based science.

Babas, Gurus, Swamis and Fakirs have always dotted the mindscape of Indians. With myriad gods and goddesses, each with an individual portfolio, perhaps we need these intermediaries as navigators. But to tell the real from the fake will test our GQ (gullibility quotient). Or else, there’ll be plenty of Ba-Bas to pull the wool over our eyes!