Radhika mishra, the quiet, self assured girl, sauntered towards the couch laid across her room. She had a rather tiring day, rubbing her palms casually she slouched down to settle on the puffy cushioned furniture leisurely. Her mind buzzing with the interactions she had ever since their morning meeting in birdsong, Piyali mam had appointed Sam, Neil with a new ad project that entailed with independent research. .
The specific product they were supposed to advertise was of a touring destination near Mumbai called Khandala which was situated around eighty kilometers. Khandala was one of the prominent getaways from Mumbai. The impressive scenery of the destination wins the hearts of nature lovers. Situated at a height of 625 m, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding. During monsoon, Khandala has its own beauty to boast about. The clean, verdant environ keeps the visitors spellbound. The pleasant climatic condition throughout the year is also one of the major reasons behind the popularity of Khandala as a most-traveled destination close to Mumbai.
The project was to advertise and promote about the beauty of the place and some of its features along with its best of hotels located there. Their team dotted on sending their crew to gather various information,pictures,historic importances related to the place.
To her delight, Sam insisted on Radhika being the part of their creative team.
"Radhika, tum bhi kaam karna hoga, iss project meh. Kyunki yeh bahut alluring, exotic locale hai. Inke natural description ke liye hume ek artistic insaan chahiye. Obviously, you fill that space very well. Toh kya kehti ho? Are you in?" She asked her eyebrows towering higher.
"Yeh koi poochne ki baat hai kya? Sam, I can do anything for you! Tum Meri friend, mentor, roommate, Sab kuch ho!"
"Chashni, aap dono ke friendship lecture baad meh dena, are you in, decide karne pehle hi batata hoon.., Humare team meh kisi theen ha char logo ko waha Jana hoga, and you'll be one among them, if you agree! Soch lo!" Neil informed her.
"Udhar Jana hoga? Par kitne din ke liye?" Radhika questioned.
"Shayad do ya theen din!" Sam replied.
"Teeke, I am in then!" Radhika smiled giving a hi5 to both her buddies.
Her face splitting up with a warm smile as she reminisced their strong bond of camaraderie they had developed in this short span of time. She shifted her legs to find a card lying down. She picked it up to find that it was a group picture of Sam,Neil, Zubin, Teji along with herself which they had clicked on the day after the party at Piyal mam's house, when they had all become friends. Radhika remembered that day, how everyone convinced her mother. After which they all took a candid picture as a remembrance. She found all of them grinning ear to ear in it, she had rather puffy looking red eyes in the photograph, since she had been shedding tears at the warmth showered on her by her colleagues. Just then, she felt her quivering phone inside her pocket, she pulled it away to find out the caller to be Saral.
"Hello Radhu, kaisi ho, kaisa tha aaj Ka din?"
"Bahut accha din tha, Saral! Aaj ek naya assignment pe Birdsong sign kiya hai! Isiliye, Meeting aur kaamo meh busy thi!" She said with a lazy yawn.
"Accha, aur kya batao!"
"Aur kya..., Woh project ke liye humare team ko two or three days khandala Jana hoga, Sam ne bataya!" She muttered as she drifted towards the refrigerator to get some cold water to drink. She could hear an audible noise of a bike. She walked across to peep through the windows.
"Lagta hai, Sam aagayi!" She casually uttered to Saral as she moved towards the door to unlock, which turned out to be Neil., her eyes displaying mild astonishment.
"Chashni, itne surprised kyun ho rahi ho, yaar? Sam ke kuch cheeze leni hai, aur usne Tume pick up karne ke liye bhi kaha hai! Humara plans change hua hai! Hum aaj hi nikalne wale hain! So tum jaldi se taiyyar ho Jao, chalo chalo Chashni." He urged her leaving himself to pick up Sam's stuff.
"Ek second, Saral mujhe kaam hain, main baad meh phone karti hoon!"
"Radhu, ek minute rukjaa! Yeh Neil waha kya kar raha hain? Woh bhi jab tum ghar meh akeli hai??" He whispered in a cold furious tone.
"Saral... Woh humara accha dost hai! Tum har baar use blame karna chod do. He's a very nice guy, very decent you know?"
"Decent? Main tumse behter ladkon ko samajhta hoon! Mujhe use pasand nahi hain, that's it!"
"Par tum Teji aur Zubin ko bhi dkha hain na? They're all very good guys too. Mujhe kabhi bhi awkward feel nahi karvaya inn Sab ne, pata hai tume!"
"Radhu, woh log alag hai, aur Neil alag hai, samjhi!"
Radhika tried to grab the meaning of his words, but felt like trying to perceive an answer of a most strenuous puzzle, hence she dropped it when she saw Neil barging in with a bag swung across his shoulder.
"Chashni, hume nikalna hai, abhi tak tum taiyyar nahi huyi?" He egged her.
"Saral, main baad meh call karungi, bye!" She ended the call, rummaging into her wardrobe to hunt for a fresh pair of robes and trudged into the bathroom. She found Neil waiting for her outside in his car after ten minutes, and boarded in all set.
"Sam, hum nikal chuke hain, bas raaste meh hain!" He replied Sam in a hasty tone, rushing the car through a traffic packed road.
The next day, Neil and Radhika were heading their way towards a place called Bhushi lake after visiting several other viewpoints such as Tiger's leap and Amrutanjan point. (Sam and Teju had been busy with getting governmental permission from the consular office for yet another location called kharla and Bhaja caves, which historical rock cut caves, situated at a distance of 16 km from Khandala. They are the ancient Buddhist caves, which needed exclusive approval from the archaeological department.)
The lake had such a quaint look about it, occasionally got camouflaged with a thick coat of mist here and then. Neil was clicking a few pictures, Radhika's eyes were glued to the freezing water, admiring the picturesque terrains around.
"Neil, it's so beautiful! Look at the lilies popping up there on that brink of the water surface. Take those pics too...," she said plunging into the freezing cold water of the lake. "Awww...!" She shrieked as the excruciatingly arctic water tickled her entire body. "Neil, I'm chilled to the bone, you should experience this, come on...!" She called him in wild excitement.
When Neil didn't pay heed to her, she dipped in deeper into the chilling pool of liquid, and scooped up the water in her palms to splash at him. Hit by the sudden coldness, Neil retrieved himself out of the shock, and turned around to look at his Chashni. The view was simply mesmerizing.
A pretty looking girl, adorning a red sleeveless tops, broad smile plastered across her innocent face, half drenched in water, stood before him, stupefying his senses for a while. It took him a moment to revert out of the trance. Neil wasn't alien to good looking, lively girls. He had seen many best looking models too while at his work. But the innocence in Radhika was something very new to him. Retrieving out of the magical trance, he trudged towards his Chashni smilingly.
"Chashni, tum bahut naughty ban gayi ho, pata hai? Mere saare attire wet karva diya tune...! Iski badlaa main lekar hi rahoonga... Yeh lo.!" Saying this he splashed water on her. Like two kindergarten toddlers they continued their water splashing game for a while. At that moment, Neil's phone trembled with a call from Sam, thus he ran to attend the same.
Radhika retracted off the water edge, at last remembering the purpose of their job. She stood toweling her hair, with her hanky she had brought.
"Chashni, yeh lo..! Brought it from our hotel room, socha koi kaam aajayega!" Neil said extending a pair of linen sheets out of his bag.
"Thanks...! Tum bhi bheeg chuke ho, towel yourself too, Neil!"
He nodded with a smile, averting his eyes off her wet, sticky clothes, which didn't go unnoticed by Radhika.
"Chalo Chashni, hume dher ho raha hai, Sam intezaar kar rahi hogi!"
On their way back, they were ascending earthen stairs, leading to the hillside adjacent to the lake. The ground was wet, with occasional drizzling quenching the thirst of the trees around. Radhika's feet squelched over a marshy patch, and went skidding off forth, "aargh..." She yelped as she was about to bump on Neil. Alarmed with the sharp squeal, he caught hold of her arms, and made her stand erect.
"Chashni, be careful!" He said clenching her hand in his tight grip. And he led her cautiously, without relaxing his hold on her, making sure she doesn't tumble anyway forthwith. Radhika rubbed her hands, as her wet clothes was frosting her from inside, Neil realized her discomfort and took off his overcoat to enclose her with it. "Rak lo, thoda behter feel karegi!" He assured and moved ahead. Radhika walked along casting an overwhelmingly dazzled look at him.
As they got back to their cottage they were staying in, the twilight was amply outspread to make the range of view blur. Seeing a soaked Radhika, Neil said, "Chalo Chashni, you look exhausted. Tum aaram karo, baaki kaam kal dekh lenge!" He said drifting apart, but she held his hands. Neil gazed at her with a curious stare.