Apnara taratari ashun, ekhane ek ma aar chheley mara jachhey (Please rush, a mother and son are dying here)' That's what the caller cried into the telephone at Lake police station on Wednesday afternoon, before hanging up.
Alarmed, the thana despatched two officers to the address on Kankulia Road mentioned in the distress call.
Officers reached the spot, off Gol Park, to find an elderly woman and her middle-aged son lying listless, having consumed sleeping pills.
They also found a large group of neighbours gathered outside the ground-floor flat ' all staring at a spectacle of impending death through the doorway, none willing to step in and try to save the mother and son.
They were, apparently, unwilling to risk 'police trouble' by getting involved.
The act of apathy was played out in the prominent south Calcutta locality after Kamallata Basu Mallik, 73, and her 45-year-old son, Nilotpal, tried to commit suicide.
They were driven to desperation by acute poverty, mounting debts and pressure from creditors.
'Instead of rushing them to hospital, the neighbours gathered there, waiting for police to arrive. Officers rushed them to MR Bangur Hospital in two taxis and their condition was stated to be stable on Thursday,' said Sukumar Chakraborty, officer-in-charge (OC) of Lake police station.
Police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee lauded his force for saving two lives, but added: 'I am sad that several residents just stood there watching the incident.'
N. Ramesh Babu, deputy commissioner of police (south division), alleged that the crowd had just stood and watched the mother-son in distress for over an hour.
It was around 11 am that residents of the locality learnt of the suicide bid after a youth entered the house to meet Nilotpal and found him and his mother lying on the bed unconscious.
'No one was ready to enter the house, apprehensive of the fact that if the mother and son died, it would result in a police case and those getting involved would be harassed by the cops,' said a neighbour.
Nilotpal was a member of the Indian Life Saving Society, confirmed secretary Mihir Bandopadhyay. He is not only a good swimmer, but also a table tennis and badminton player, added Bandopadhyay.
Lake OC Chakraborty recounted a kabuliwala lodging a complaint against Nilotpal one-and-a-half-months ago, stating that he had borrowed Rs 4 lakh from him and was not paying him back.
'I summoned both of them and told the moneylender not to harass him as he would surely pay him back,' Chakraborty added.