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Gurdip Singh Flora is a physician with a thriving practice in Simi Valley. His middle name, Singh, indicates his faith. He is a Sikh and all male Sikh’s have that same middle name - Singh. The Sikh religion is a fusion of elements of Hinduism and Islam. Its adherents live predominantly in Punjab, a northwestern Indian state bordering Islamic Pakistan and Hindu India.

Sikhs have been famous for their fierceness in battle and their heroism for hundreds of years. They were the turban clad, sword-wielding soldiers in Britain s former colonial Indian army. Rudyard Kipling’s Ballad of Gunga Din and the movie of the story staring Cary Grant exemplify that tradition.

“Though I’ve belted you and flayed you, By the living God that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

Growing up in India, Dr. Flora adhered to the Sikh custom of the five K’s: keeping his hair long (kes) and carrying a small comb (khanga) under a turban, wearing an iron bracelet (kara), carrying a symbolic steel sword (kirpan), and wearing a tight, knee length undergarment (kaccha). But, like many new Americans, Gurdip Flora has foregone those elements of his tradition. He has held onto others.

True to Sikh custom, his father arranged his marriage. He did not see his wife until he lifted her veil. He didn’t go through the courtship and dating rituals familiar to native-born Americans. But a happy marriage to his wife, Ayvinder, for fifteen years and three children speak well of his faith and traditions.

After attending medical school in Calcutta, Dr. Flora arrived in the U.S. in 1983 to do continue his medical training. As many other Indian doctors have done, he stayed in the U.S. – to raise his family, to pursue his career.

If you glance at any directory of hospital physicians, you’ll find a bevy of Indian names: Kumar, Aggarwal, Gupta, Goel, Garg, Patel. The largest groups of doctors, next to those American born, are from India. “India has more than 100 medical schools,” Dr. Flora explained. Because of British colonial influence, these schools are steeped in the traditions of western medicine. But while their schools teach about the technological advances of medicine, because India is a poor country, there is less opportunity to apply those advances. Indian doctors seek to come to the U.S. to learn how to utilize the latest technology. They stay certainly because economic opportunities are greater here.

What does Dr. Flora miss most about his homeland?

“Peace of mind,” he said thoughtfully. “Even though India is decades behind the economic level of the United States, the stress and anxiety levels are not there at all. Indians are very relaxed people.” And there is no threat of legal action. “Physicians are still revered in India,” Flora explained. “After god, there’s the doctor. And the doctor heals with the help of god.”

Flora described an interesting difference in the practice of medicine in the U.S. and India. In India, he said, a doctor can take more time tending to his patients because there is no such thing as medical records. Instead of the doctor keeping each patient’s record, he writes down his exam, his diagnosis, and prescription on his letterhead, and gives it to the patient. It is the patients’ responsibility to keep their own records and bring them with them on revisits to their doctor or in visiting another doctor.

Dr. Gurdip Flora does not remind me of a fierce Sikh warrior. He is a soft-spoken man with a talent for compassion, well educated in the healing arts of medicine. But then again he might surprise me one day wearing his traditional turban and sword. Afterall, his middle name is Singh, which means “lion.”