Palash and Partha were woken up early on Wednesday by the screams of their father, Bablu Halder.
Minutes later, they were confronted by the horrific sight of mother Manu engulfed in flames, rushing down the corridor of their Rashbehari Avenue residence.
'We could not recognise her' She was like a torch of fire, running up and down, flailing her arms. She had already been severely burnt,' said Palash, 22, an autorickshaw-driver.
Manu, aged about 45, later succumbed to her injuries at MR Bangur Hospital. She had allegedly committed suicide. Husband Bablu, 51, is battling for life at SSKM Hospital.
Lake police station received a frantic call at around 2.20 am from Shyamali Das, landlady of 119, Rashbehari Avenue.
According to a senior officer, when they reached, the flames swallowing Manu had not yet been doused, and her husband, too, had suffered serious burns.
'She used to be on sedatives, and the husband was an alcoholic without work. Frequent quarrels had broken out between the two in the past few days. We are not sure how it happened, but Manu stated that she had set herself ablaze,' said an officer.
The Halder couple resided on the ground floor of a 100-year-old building belonging to Rani Rashmoni. The landlady, Shyamali Das, a descendant of Rani Rashmoni, alleged that her tenants had forcefully occupied her son Amlan's study on April 16, 2000.
Ever since, Das has been trying to evict the Halders by petitioning the sub-divisional judicial magistrate at Alipore.
'We had heard Manu and Bablu shouting at each other around 2 am, but did not pay heed, since this was a regular affair. But soon, Sita and Mita Sarkar, tenants who also live on the ground floor, called us and urged us to call the police, since they had spied flames in the room occupied by the Halders,' Das recounted on Wednesday.
Kalu Das, the watchman, was a witness to the tragedy. 'When I stepped into their room, Manu had already doused herself with kerosene and was grappling with her husband. As I separated them and then turned to leave, she suddenly set herself on fire. My right side was severely burnt,' he said, pointing to a swollen and blistered arm.
'She then deliberately caught her husband in an embrace, but he managed to break free and run,' added Kalu Das.