All Females are AMMA here
The title “dear” is very common in the West according to my knowledge. Possibly it is used mostly for ladies; ladies well known to you for that matter, and not for every one.
Whereas in the Southern part of India where I live, every female could be addressed by the title Amma , both known and unknown. So versatile is this term.
Accordingly, Amma could mean ‘mother’ when it is directed towards a lady by her children and when used in the reverse direction it assumes the title “daughter”. If the father uses it to his wife, it would be ‘darling’. See what a multiplex word this one is?
Even small children say, beyond the age of 3, is hailed as Amma. College going maidens may not call each other by this title. But if a young gent falls in love with a classmate, he would go in for ‘amma’ after some days. The moment she hears the word ‘amma’ suffixed to her name, she would float in cloud 9 and dwell on dreams of the future !
One young school going young boy, used this title to an young girl studying two classes lower than himself. She knew what it meant. But wanting to make sure, Rani told her mother that evening, “Amma, amma, Suresh called me ‘ Rani amma’ today. What did he mean by it, Amma?” The mother was horrified and wanted to nip it in the bud. “Nothing. Probably he wanted to say, you are’ mental’…” Then raising her voice she warned, “Will you concentrate on your studies, you stupid girl. And stop moving around with boys. Understand? “
It’s not at all difficult to talk to any lady here. You don’t have to feel embarrassed either. All you have to do is to address a stranger, ‘Amma’. And presto, she would go head over heels and oblige you. This is a magical word to get anything done by the fair sex.
While this honorific title could be used for ladies up to middle age, a small prefix is added for the elderly types, such as Patti amma, which in normal English would mean ‘granny’. She indeed would be thrilled at hearing this phrase and she would go all out to do anything for you.
Persons well versed in English and British manners would draw the attention of a stranger with the phrase, “Excuse me.” But here, if the person being hailed is a woman, you can straightway go in for ‘Amma’. She wouldn’t feel hurt at all.
If an organization is headed by a lady, she would become Amma to every staff. And there would be no mistaking about it either. You say, “Amma wants this. Do it fast.” And the person concerned will know who exactly wants the thing.
A particular political party in my State is headed by a veteran bachelor woman. Every party worker would refer to her as Amma and it is a very powerful title too. Nobody would check back, “Which Amma? ” The other person might in his turn tell you off saying, “There is only one Amma, dammit…”
Next time if you ever happen to visit my city Chennai, do remember this little tip. Call any feminine gender simply by the title, “Amma, could you tell me the place where I could get my passport endorsed…?” Take it from me, she would spend at least the next half hour ministering to you in all possible ways even risking missing her own flight.