Conning is as much an art as it’s a crime. Paris had Victor Lustig, the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice, and India, had Mr. Natwarlal. The conning genius ‘sold’ the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the Parliament House of India, along with its 545 sitting members, by forging President Rajendra Prasad’s signatures. Hate it or love it, the man was a legend and probably the sharpest conman in the world.
Born in Bihar, Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava, was Mr. Natwarlal’s birth name. Natwarlal discovered his incredible skill when he forged the signatures of his neighbour, Sahay, who would often send him to deposit his bank drafts. By the time Sahay came to know about the duping, Natwar had already fled Bihar for Calcutta with Rs.1000. In Calcutta, he tried his hands at a failed cloth business after which he got into stock broking.
He was first caught by the Calcutta police when he sold 9 tonnes of iron belonging to the government, using forged documents. He served a rigorous 6 months in prison. After being released, Natwar started with something that came to be known as ‘prostitute poisoning’. Police alleged that he would dope the prostitutes with drugs and eventually flee with their money. He was caught again but never faced jail time.
He then began to do small-time con jobs at railway stations, mostly issuing fake government documents, release orders and cheques to vanish the goods. His immense success in textile conning in the 40s earned him the name ‘Natwarlal’. The fifties and sixties saw the exponential rise of Natwarlal. He was moving throughout the country, conning jewelers, watchmakers, traders, bankers, and of course, the government. He duped countless rich watch-sellers in Delhi and U.P., often posing as the secretary of a famous politician. Even a vague estimate of how much money he made off watchmakers alone ranges in lakhs.
Often when Natwarlal was not on a run or duping the rich, he would visit his village and distribute clothes, free food, and sometimes, even cash. The people of his village still look up to him as a Robin Hood who looted the rich and fed the poor. Till date there’s no confirmed information about his family, the only bit of info being that his daughter is married and settled in the U.S.
The Darbhanga court sentenced him for 17 years, the Singhbhum court sentenced him to 19, a Patna judge sentenced him to life, and in Bihar alone, he faces 14 convictions totaling sentences running up to over 113 years. Unsurprisingly, Natwarlal served hardly 20 years of his sentence thanks to his jail-breaking talent. On most occasions, he would just vanish from custody posing as a fake policeman or simply by bluffing the security. His 1957 escape from the Kanpur jail is rated to be one of the most famous jail-breaks in the history of Indian crime. He was last arrested in 1987 and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars; in 1996, at the age of 84, he fooled the police again while he was being taken to AIIMS hospital for treatment. While some claim he died on Saturday July 25, 2009, his brother claims to have cremated him in 1996 at Ranchi. Since, his death still remains a mystery, it won’t be wrong to say that Natwarlal is STILL on the run!