| in the grill: Peiping restaurant (right) and the other shops along Asiatic Society. Picture by Aranya Sen
Peiping, one of the oldest Park Street restaurants, which has been catering to a sizeable clientele since 1944, may have to shift elsewhere to make room for the garden and frontage beautification project of Asiatic Society next to it. This follows the declaration of the old building of Asiatic Society, at 2/B, Park Street, as a historic monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
“In the days ahead, the Asiatic Society building will be restored to its original glory, with a garden and beautified frontage,” observed society general secretary Dilip Coomer Ghose.
The building, constructed in 1805 by Sir William Jones, has always been considered one of the most important edifices of the metropolis. In 1984, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid a visit to the Society and declared it “an institute of national importance”.
Ghose said on Wednesday that the July 2 note from Kasturi Gupta Menon, ASI director-general, declaring the old building a historic monument, has “really come as a shot in the arm for us... We have been fighting a legal battle with eight establishments, including Peiping, housed either in the old building or its vicinity, ever since we slapped eviction notices on all of them in 1994. And we are happy now because the ASI has taken the initiative to clear the mess from the entire campus.”
Ghose, who spoke to Menon on Tuesday to inquire about the next course of action, said during the day that ASI officers will shortly visit the city to expedite the eviction. Menon, when contacted at her New Delhi residence, was not available for comment.
“We want the entire campus in and around the old building to be cleared to make room for the garden and frontage beautification. The building, with a collection of 1.40 lakh precious books and 70,000 journals will showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage to scholars if we are able to restore it to its original state,” Ghosh observed.
The authorities had to let out some portions of the ground floor of the old building to two Central government undertakings and a commercial establishment in the Seventies as part of its move to generate revenue. Besides, almost at the same time, the ground floor of the new building was let out to four other commercial establishments, including a bank and a book shop.
“Initially, we had to be self-reliant, since Central funds started coming to us only after it was declared an institute of national importance in 1984,” he maintained.
Echoing Ghose, Society president Amalendu De said though Peiping was not housed in either of the buildings, it is close to the Society campus and pays a paltry Rs 2,000 as monthly rent. “We have already asked the present owner of the restaurant to shift elsewhere,” he said, adding that the Society will get back nearly 30,000 square feet if the mess were cleared.
M.S. Chatterjee, a Peiping manager, contended that though the eatery was a tenant of Asiatic Society, it had a different municipal address — 1/1, Park Street.