Though steeped in history, most pice hotels have been unable to keep up with rising food prices and the changing demands of the modern city. Many have closed, and with them has gone an important part of Kolkata's food history. Guha once ran three pice hotels in the city – only the Young Bengal Hotel has survived. Pritha Ray Bardhan, Guha's granddaughter, told me of the challenges that come with keeping the place running at a time when food and overheads costs are soaring. "We have had to increase our prices to make sure that the quality of our food is not compromised, and we can stay afloat," she said.
For Sen, who runs Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram with her sister-in-law Debjani, the road has not been easy either. "The office crowd has thinned down over the years as several government offices have been shifted to the outskirts of the city… We once had twice the number of customers – things are different now," she said. While some have tried to move to digital food delivery platforms, especially during the pandemic months, often the commissions charged by such services are not cost-effective.
Despite the hiccups, most of the remaining pice hotel owners remain resolute. Sen still hopes that both her daughter and her niece will continue this matrilineal inheritance. And Singh at Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel explained, with a mix of determination and sorrow, "Even if we run at a loss, we wish to carry on the legacy of my grandfather. Some things are invaluable."
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