Some of the side-effects of growing up in a joint family are not reversible. I know it because I grew up in one. When my e(o)ldest cousin was born, he saw all the elders calling my grandmother "Amma", so he started calling her "Amma" instead of "paatti". Then his siblings were born and they called her the same way. Wonder how they differentiated between their own mother and our grand-mother! And they all called my parents "Mama" and "Mami". When I was born, all the kids were calling my parents mama-mami and I started calling my mother mami. "Mama" was not called as often as Mami, so I stuck to Mami and Appa to address my parents, much to the disappointment of my mother. Why Appa? Well, who can ever understand kids' logic!Then one of our uncles visited us and to assuage my mother, apparently, told me that Mami is actually pronounced as Mummy and that was the right way to call my mother. And that was the day I started calling her "Mummy". My brother, as expected, followed suit.
How can a thayirsadham-eating, middle-class, all-the-time-tamil-speaking tamilian kids call their mother Mummy? Or so the people who inhabited my world thought. My world then consisted of classmates and neighbours (apart from relatives) Most people called me a "show-off" or a "bandha" type. I would never forget what one of my classmates said. She showed me a girl who was getting down from her car. The girl waved bye to the driver and her Mom, who was wearing sunglasses. This classmate told me "She is so rich, even she doesn't call her mother Mummy". From that day on, I was so ashamed to call my mother in public but I couldn't call her Amma either. Amma is my grandmother. I would scream Appa when I saw parents coming home but would say Mummy so quietly that no one would hear. I would even call my parents Ammi-Abba or Thaye-Thandhaye or Aattha-Naina and pretend I was jesting while in reality I just wanted to avoid calling Mummy in public. When I had to, it was just "Mee". Most North Indians call their parents Mummy-Papa, so they never found anything strange with the way I called my parents. Nor was I made fun of during college days.
Recently, one of my friends asked me how I would want my son to call me. "Is it gonna be Mommy as the kids here call or Amma?" she asked with a mischievous smile. The smile seemed to convey "How can you ask him to call you Amma when you don't call your mother that way?" To avoid falling into her obvious trap, I told her. "He is going to call me Aattha. After all, I am quintessential Madras". I bet she was disappointed that she couldn't finish her thought.;-)
And yesterday my son kept repeating the word Aattha and that warmed the cockles of my heart. Maybe Naina is next....