Natwarlal was a notorious con man who pulled off some of the most audacious scams in India, including selling the Taj Mahal not once, but twice. Despite being arrested multiple times, Natwarlal continued to swindle people until his death, and his legend lives on as one of India’s most skilled and prolific con artists.
Mithiliesh Kumar Srivastava, also known as Natwarlal, was a notable con man in India. Mithilesh had been caught and escaped from prison 10 times, and he frequently stated that no prison could contain him since there was always a dishonest officer, and therefore he would always find a way out. The inspiration for classic crime films like Natwarlal, Raja Natwarlal, and Bunty Aur Babli is the subject of this amazing and almost hilarious narrative.
Mithilesh was born in 1913 in Bangra village in the Siwan region of Bihar. His roots are as enigmatic as his entire life, with some stories suggesting he hailed from a plebeian background similar to the rest of India and others claiming he belonged to a well-to-do, land-owning society. Mithilesh was a strong student in Patna high school, but he struggled with mathematics. According to legend, he ran away from home after being severely beaten by his father.
He made it to Kolkata and enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce degree programme at Calcutta University on his own, with no help from anyone. He infiltrated a businessman’s family, posing as a tutor for his children and even the headmaster of the school they attended. Their relationship escalated into a commercial agreement in which he took 4.5 lakhs from the businessman. This was the first time he got arrested.
Mithilesh left a trail of angry, misled merchants all throughout the country over the following few years. As a ‘lawyer,’ he mastered the fabrication of official papers as well as the signatures of public individuals like as Rajendra Prasad and Dhirubhai Ambani. He had made his mark in Patna, Meerut, Allahabad, Andhra Pradesh, and Bombay by the early 1950s, collecting money by trickery and eluding imprisonment. But, he is most known for selling the Taj Mahal three times, the Red Fort twice, Rashtrapati Bhavan thrice, and the Indian Parliament and its 545 sitting members to unsuspecting foreigners.
Mithilesh served barely 20 years in prison despite having more than 100 charges in 8 states across India and sentences totaling more than 113 years. His most recent escape occurred when he was 84 years old and was being transferred from Kanpur prison to the AIIMS hospital for treatment under police supervision when he fled, leaving an empty wheelchair behind. His death was also clouded in mystery; his brother claimed to have buried him in 1996, while his attorneys claim he survived until 2009.
It was impossible to differentiate the truth from myth and fact from fantasy, as it was with most other parts of his existence. Those who met him characterized him as a highly brilliant, pleasant, and eloquent man, which, of course, corresponds to his “job”. Yet he was also well-liked in his homeland, where rumours persist of him donating con money to village residents who continue to defend him to this day. No one knows what he did with the money, where he was till his death, or even if he had any friends, but his narrative is undoubtedly intriguing, if a little illegal, and anti-establishment