From celebrated philosophers to characters in Hindu mythology, from uncles of American superheroes to Bollywood actors, many have doled out sage advice on choosing between right and wrong when at a crossroads. It's not an easy choice when there's something big at stake - a million bucks, a plush career opportunity ... or a reputation. Ergo, it's not fair to judge those who don't acquit themselves admirably, but we do admire those who do.
Oddly enough, in the context of corruption in cricket, the name of Sachin Tendulkar has cropped up a few times over the years. No one's accused him of corrupt practices, of course, but many are the voices that say that in his position, he could blow the whistle, set an example.
Rashid Latif, the former Pakistan captain who was a whistle-blower (but not someone who's always taken seriously), said in an interview with Outlook in July 2003:
Q: Which Indian cricketer do you think should be questioned?
A: The hero in your country. Sachin.
Q: Sachin Tendulkar...!
A: Yes, absolutely. He knows everything.
We only have Latif's word to go by here, and that's probably not enough to believe Tendulkar did know enough, or anything. But, as Suresh Menon, among others, has said on occasion, it is important for respected cricketers like Tendulkar to come out and speak to the paying public at times like these - as he did this past Friday. The statement doesn't have to be dramatic or radical (it wasn't), but just needs to be an acknowledgement that he shares their hurt, feels bad about being part of something that has broken the trust of the people.
You could say that the difference between Tendulkar and Siddharth Trivedi is that Tendulkar has more to lose by getting involved, even if in a cosmetic way. On the other hand, to Trivedi, who is only a marginal cricketer in the Indian cricket firmament, the value of an IPL contract must be enormous. By exposing his mates, as he is reported to have done, surely Trivedi runs the risk of offending his bosses or even the BCCI bigwigs, who don't always appear to like people who step out of line.
But it's in testing times that the true character of a person emerges.
Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator who wrote the remarkable Pedagogy of the Oppressed, once said, "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." Truer words have seldom been spoken. Keeping quiet on issues like corruption, whether in cricket or in politics, means aiding and abetting the crime, not just protecting your interests. Keeping quiet is never an option.
History is replete with examples of people who chose to play safe, but there have been enough people who stepped out of rank and spoke up at the cost of personal peril and fortune. Sticking to cricket history here, the names of Gubby Allen and Iftekhar Ali Khan Pataudi, both of whom opposed Douglas Jardine's Bodyline tactics, come to mind straightaway. Or even, and I don't say this lightly, Manoj Prabhakar - guilty as charged, but responsible for helping unearth a lot of the filth back in 1999-2000.
Trivedi joins that list now and, no, I have not woken up to him suddenly because he turned whistle-blower. I have observed him with interest over the years, and also had reason to interact with him rather closely because of a project I was working on. His attitude and language set him apart from the average Indian domestic cricketer.
The usual "I hope to play for India" or "I could have been selected for India if ..." refrains are not for Trivedi.
On the field, he has been a lion-hearted performer for Gujarat and Saurashtra over the years, bowling tirelessly for hours on non-responsive pitches, as he has for Rajasthan Royals. Six seasons with the team now, Trivedi has played more games for the team than anyone else - 76 - and has been the unsung hero in many of the Royals' best moments. Under the radar but always, without exception, committed to the cause. "I am a bowler, I have been given a job to do; why should I not do it as well as I can?" he asked me once matter of factly. Just doing his job.
And loyal. Joy Bhattacharya, Team Director of Kolkata Knight Riders till recently, wrote on Saturday on Facebook about an incident in 2010, around the time Rajasthan and Kings XI Punjab had been suspended (reversed later) from the IPL: "When I asked him about joining KKR, he didn't give me a chance to finish. He said that Rajasthan had given him his first break in the IPL and he would only think about other teams if they were definitely gone (from the IPL)."
Rajasthan stayed in the IPL and Trivedi stayed with Rajasthan.
Off the field, he has been a pleasure to talk to; his thoughts on the game are well formed, and his ideas - whether you agree with them or not - well thought-out and articulated.
Simply, he is the sort of cricketer you like. You respect him because he respects the game.
Which, of course, is never reason to believe that he had to be above board himself. If a bad guy were so easily identifiable, there would be no need for law-enforcement agencies or sting operations.
I have no idea if Trivedi will do something tomorrow that will make me eat my words, but in this here and now, he stands to serve as an example of what could be. An example of what a young man, brave and confident, can do if he chooses to. He is the sort of man movies are made about. He is the sort of man cricket needs: men who play hard and fair, and conduct themselves honestly too. Who choose the right path when the wrong one is so much easier to walk.