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Days before Mashal Khan’s death, his mother Syeda Bibi had a nightmare. She saw him standing by a tower about to collapse. It crashed, burying him alive. But this being a mother’s nightmare, the son rose up from beneath the concrete rubble, unscathed.

She held him close and said, unbelievingly, “You’re alive?” seeking his confirmation against her doubting mind.

He said he was all right.

“How could you have possibly survived that?” asked the mother, grateful but still sceptic.

“I live because the tower fell,” said the son, cryptically.

In the wide-awake world, Mashal is dead. He did not stand up, dusting his white clothes – a colour he loved – after his brutal lynching at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) on April 13, 2017. A day later, he would be brought home to his mother, a chilling personification of her nightmare, knuckles broken, skull shattered. She would not recognise the battered, bandaged body but from a birthmark on his arm that, when he was born, everyone found auspicious because it looked like “Allah” etched on his skin.

Sitting in Mashal’s whitewashed room with his pictures lined on the wall, she speaks of how, on many a night, she found him here reading late, falling asleep with a book on his chest. She says she raised her son like others raise their daughters — protecting him from the outside world. “I worried about the radicalising influence of mullahs and terrorists. I taught my children religion at home because I felt I knew it better than what they teach.”

To keep her children safe, Syeda Bibi raised a tower that, if you believe in the symbolism of dreams, is an ancient maternal archetype in the psychology of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. When she dreamed of that tower collapsing, it was perhaps a forewarning of her own undoing at the terrible death of her child. But there are other towers, in tarot and in verse, that do not stand for Jung’s safe maternal womb but portend forces bent upon destruction.

She – and Mashal’s father Iqbal Khan – knew of the dark towers occupied by sinister forces. Not as believers in the occult or dream archetypes but as thinking citizens of Pakistan, where nightmares have a way of creeping into real life. This fear of dark forces may or may not be Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ of a nation playing out in our dreams; but who can deny that it has become our collective consciousness in today’s Pakistan — a wakeful state where the terrifying vision of nihilistic, anarchic hordes running amok in Hollywood’s Mad Max: Fury Road have come to resemble our own?

Reel versus reality memes that juxtaposed the death-faced Immortan Joe with a gasmasked Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the cleric who laid a violent siege to Islamabad for the better part of November 2017 with a mob fed on religious frenzy, made the chilling parallels darkly comic. But for Mashal’s parents and those of us who seek to protect our precious little worlds from scheming forces in dark towers, the irony only brought home brutal, stark truths about Pakistani society. Blasphemy –invoking mullahs and rampaging mobs intent on murder, challenging the authority of a state in whose dark towers they were bred – like Frankenstein’s monster patched together from lies, distortions and hate. When the monster rose, it sought to bring down its own creator.

This is an excerpt from the Herald's Annual 2018 cover story. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.