Ezekiel was born on 16 December 1924 in Bombay (Mumbai) in Maharashtra. His father was a professor of botany at Wilson College, and his mother was principal of her own school. The Ezekiels belonged to Mumbai's Marathi-speaking Jewish community known as the Bene Israel.
In 1947, Ezekiel earned a BA in Literature from Wilson College, Mumbai, Bombay University. In 1947-48, he taught English literature and published literary articles. After dabbling in radical politics for a while, he sailed to England in November 1948. He studied philosophy at Birkbeck College, London. After three and a half years stay, Ezekiel worked his way home as a deck-scrubber aboard a ship carrying arms to Indochina.